YOUR SAY: A Call to Uphold the Ban on Alpine Grazing in Victoria

Posted on December 19, 2010 by


BY KEITH BOXER.


On Saturday the 9th of January 2010, as part of the Victorian Liberal/National Party coalition re-election strategy, The Hon. Peter Walsh, MP, deputy leader of the Victorian National Party announced that; “A Victorian Coalition Government will reinstate strategic cattle grazing to reduce the risk of fire in Victoria’s high country”

It seems to me that one of the great myth’s about alpine grazing is that it reduces alpine blazing. Many vehicles in the state carry this bumper sticker announcing the drivers support for alpine grazing. However, I worked in Victoria’s alpine area before and after the fires of 2003 and saw firsthand that this implied “fact” is simply untrue.

What I witnessed during these fires is that very little of the grass that the cattle would eat did actually burn. However, what did burn extensively, were the woody shrubs, which the cattle do not eat, and had grown more densely following the disturbance of the alpine environment by the cattle.

In fact, my experience following the 2003 fires was the exact opposite of what the cattlemen were saying publically in support of the advantages of continued cattle grazing in the Alps.

It seems to me that the alpine cattlemen have taken a lead from the tobacco industry (when they were fighting cigarette regulation during the 1970s and 1980s) by distributing suspect information as fact, to confuse the science about alpine grazing in the public’s mind, in order to further their own vested interests.

Admittedly, alpine cattle grazing was part of the Australian/European tradition throughout the first 150 years of our history, however, this does not automatically make alpine grazing a proper use for these vulnerable regions . During this first 150 years great stories have been written about the “romance” of the cattlemen and great fortunes made at the expense of the natural ecology of the Alps. Let us keep our history intact and remember the romantic tales and not repeat the mistakes of our forefathers by reintroducing cattle to the high country!

Most of the high alpine areas where grazing initially occurred (and has been excluded in some areas for more than 30 years) has still not recovered fully, creeks still run through degraded landscapes with eroded banks, sphagnum bogs are struggling to recover and woody shrubs have taken over in many areas that would have originally been bogs. Grazing makes the remaining bogs more sensitive to fire as the hoof prints allow the water to dry out quickly and then allows fire access to the underground areas of the now dry bog, exacerbating fire damage.

I have been regular visitors to the Australian Alpine country for over 50 years, enjoying hiking, fishing and 4WD camping, initially with my parents, then while our children were growing up, now in retirement my wife and I have continue our close association with the Alps with regular hiking, fishing and 4WD camping trips.

I clearly remember from the early days of my family’s involvement in the Alps that cattle were grazed extensively in all of the high alpine areas we visited. We often found springs and streams trampled and fouled by the cattle and were always careful about where we collected water as we were aware of the health dangers of drinking cattle fouled water.

At that time we never thought much about the environmental damage being done by the cattle and accepted that this degradation was a “normal” by-product of the cattle grazing.

However, as the cattle were gradually removed from the Alps, both in NSW and then Victoria, the alpine ecology slowly started recovering. The streams and springs became clean again and some of the sphagnum bogs recovered, the hiking trails were free of cow dung (and the associated hordes of flies were reduced) and the wild flowers were amazingly abundant and brilliant where earlier there seemed to have been none.

I am not a scientist; however, my extensive experience and observation in the Alps has clearly demonstrated to me the detrimental impact that cattle grazing has in the alpine environment and I have yet to see any of the advantages implied by the cattlemen. “Alpine grazing reduces blazing” is simply a myth!

The legislation to eliminate Alpine Grazing enacted by the previous Labor Government in Victoria was visionary and well supported by the science on which the decision was based. I strongly believe that this legislation should not be overturned and implore our new Liberal/National government to seek peer reviewed scientific advice prior to considering any legislative action aimed at overturning the existing legislation banning alpine grazing.

In conclusion, I urge all Victorians; write to your local politicians expressing dismay at the possible over turning of the alpine grazing ban, requesting the Government to defer to the peer reviewed scientific opinion in this matter for the good of all of the people of Victoria. The government must hold firm and not be swayed by the populist calls of the vested interests of graziers for a return to the “tradition” of cattle grazing in the Alps. The only winners in a return to alpine grazing are the graziers themselves through higher profits for their cattle while all other Victorians are the loser’s, ending up with a severely degraded Alpine asset that rapidly becomes less fit for Alpine recreation.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Keith Boxer is a climate and sustainability advocate from Bright, Victoria.  Keith is retired after a 22 year career with IBM in which he had numerous international project management roles in the United States, Canada, Japan and Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.  He is currently involved with the Alpine Sustainability Group in Alpine Shire and collaborates regularly in contact with Wodonga and Albury for Climate Health (WATCH) and the North East Regional Sustainability Alliance (NERSA).

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Advertisements