Well done Steve Bracks and John Thwaites, from the state government of Victoria in Australia. Despite undoubted political costs, you have made a decision that might save many alpine endangered species from the trampling hooves and choking weeds imported by cattle. The practice of moving herds of cattle from the lowlands to the grasses exposed after the snow melt in summer, was worth a poem by Banjo Paterson, and a film called ‘The Man from Snowy River’. But somewhere, sometime, nature has to win out over human insatiability and tradition. Since the 1830’s, alpine areas of the Great Dividing Range have been used by local cattle owners as their own paddocks for growing beef. There is undoubted horsemanship and skill in mustering herds of cattle long distances through wild terrain. But once in the national park high country, the cattle trample fragile moss and stream beds, bring in and spread weeds, and churn the place up with their hooves. When winter comes, the cattle are moved down hill to their owner’s properties. Tax payers foot the bill for repairing the erosion, removing weeds, and loosing water quality as the mountains are the headwaters for several rivers such as the Murray.
The retaliatory cry is that alpine cattle grazing is an Australian icon, that has been happening for 170 years. But how can this speck on the butt of real time compare to the thousands and millions of years of tradition in the evolved alpine environment where softer creatures held sway and adorned its beautiful and pristine landscape? There are some 1100 native plant and 300 native animal species in the region, many now endangered. The cattle have been invaders to that land for 170 years. Even their dung pats can last five years in the cool mountain climate. It is time they were removed – OK, you can leave the pats to their own decline.
The same government has done a few other good things for the Victorian environment lately, such as creating several marine parks along its coastline, turning more of the Otways forests into national park, protection of the Wombat State Forest, and they are pushing ahead with windfarms in an effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
My larvae and I will vote labour next elections, to try and counteract the political cheap shots that will be fired their way. I therefore also request that beetles be given equal voting rights now! (Posted June 2005).
I received a contrary message from Philip Maguire, worthy of reproducing here. Nevertheless, I still support the ban on grazing. The parks suffered bushfires long before cattle entered the scene, and this environment recovers, in a way that suits the species adapted to that environment. The guestbook entry was:
Your comments on alpine grazing are based on misinformation and propaganda which didn't originate with you, but with which you have been infected. Have you seen the Bogong High Plains or Kosciuszko National Park lately? I imagine not, otherwise, you would more than likely be having doubts about your opposition to alpine grazing. There is little left in Kosciuszko after the fires of 2003. The loss of biodiversity is staggering. What's left in the Victorian Alps is largely due to grazing. FACT. Only 2 per cent of the grazed areas burned. I am a Mountain Cattleman and I know the country. I'm also a seasoned observer and frankly, I know more about the alpine environment and its relationship with cattle than do the "scientists" trotted out by the green movement. It takes more than a couple of two week study tours every now and again to gain a comprehensive understanding of the alps, but the Dick Williams and Henrik Wahren's of this world are city dwellers with little understanding of the dynamics of the high country. A few narrowly focused empirical studies do not provide sufficient information or answers on which to base an argument in favour of removing cattle. A comprehensive understanding of the vegetation changes in the sub-alpine forests, the consequent fuel load and the threat it poses to the high plains is required before one even starts to see how best to protect the alpine environment.
In a separate message, it was pointed out that while cattle may be banned, there will still be about 200,000 sambar deer roaming the high country. As feral animals, they also cause damage to this land. Deer hunters keep them in check to some extent, but the government cannot yet run a program that would exterminate them fully because as a registered game species, some need to be retained for the sport. Again, I support getting rid of all feral animals, including deer, from lands where they did not occur naturally. Similar to the way the buffalo problem in the Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, was largely controlled using shooters in helicopters. (Posted June 2005)