Australia's Greater Alpine Park Proposal Stalls on Grazing Conflict

CANBERRA, Australia, November 2, 2005 (ENS) - A multi-million dollar, three year Commonwealth government plan to create a Greater Alpine National Park spanning the states of Victoria and New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory has run into trouble because the government wants to permit cattle grazing in portions of the park. But the Victoria government says cattle grazing is too damaging to allow in any part of a national park.

The Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said the plan is an ambitious, practical answer to the conservation, heritage and recreational needs of the alpine parks that he called "Australian treasures."


Preserving the cattlement's heritage is appropriate in a national park, says Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
Today, 12 separate parks covering 1.6 million hectares extend down the Australian Alps, conserving alpine plants and animals and providing recreation to millions of visitors each year.

"A truly great international park requires a careful balance to be struck between the conservation of nature, the protection of heritage and public enjoyment," Campbell said.

The park would be placed on the National Heritage List and assessed for World Heritage nomination.

To keep cattle out of the most environmentally fragile areas, Campbell said the Australian government would invest A$3.5 million to provide "state-of-the-art virtual fencing and electric and conventional fencing."

Campbell said the government research branch, CSIRO, is testing the virtual fencing technology that uses global positioning systems to plot exclusion areas. The information is stored in a collar or ear tag on cattle and a signal emitted when they approach a no-go zone. "It is the ideal solution to stock control," said Campbell.


Member of the Victoria Parliament John Thwaites serves as Deputy Premier, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Water, and Minister for Victorian Communities. (Photo courtesy Australian Labor Party)
But Environment Minister for the state of Victoria, John Thwaites, who also serves as deputy premier, said the Victorian government would not agree to the Commonwealth's plan to allow cattle grazing in Victoria’s Alpine National Park.

Thwaites said the scientific evidence is clear that cattle grazing has damaged the unique High Country environment.

While federal Environment and Heritage Minister Campbell views cattle grazing as a heritage to be protected, Thwaites sees grazing as destructive of the park's heritage.

"We would welcome additional funding for the Alpine National Park," said Thwaites, "but we cannot accept a proposition that would destroy the natural heritage of the park."

"Both the Federal Environment Department and the Australian Heritage Council have supported the removal of cattle grazing for environmental reasons," the Victoria minister said.


Mountains in Victoria's Alpine National Park (Photo courtesy Parks Victoria)
"The Federal Minister in his press release of June 10 this year said that he would get an assessment of the Park by the Australian Heritage Council within 40 days. I call on him to release that assessment," said Thwaites.

"The fact that the Minister is proposing electric fencing demonstrates that he is aware that cattle damage fragile environments and watercourses," said Thwaites. "Electric fences and tagging are inappropriate in such an important National Park."

The Victorian Parliament has passed legislation reinforcing its decision not to renew grazing licences in the park.

Senator Campbell said one of the most significant elements of the plan was the removal of the southern Bogong High Plains from the lands where grazing would be permitted.

"The executive of the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria has agreed to surrender this prime area, which totals 31,500 hectares and normally carried almost 2,400 head of cattle, in a bid to retain their pioneering heritage links and the bonds that bind the families of mountain cattlemen," he said.

Calling these plains the "jewel in the crown" of alpine pastures, Campbell said the area has around 60 percent of the park's bogs and fens.

The Commonwealth plan includes:

Senator Campbell said he has asked Minister Thwaites to agree to a small working group representing both governments to examine the proposal and report back.

But Minister Thwaites said the Victorian government cannot accept any compromise that involves the return of cattle, a move he says "would be totally inconsistent with the values of a national park."

"The heritage of the region is preserved with grazing continuing in the High Country outside the Alpine National Park," the minister said.

Thwaites said the government of Victoria Premier Steve Bracks has already announced total funding of A$7.5 million for High Country initiatives, including pest and weed control, tourism and heritage initiatives, road improvements and transition payments for graziers.

Thwaites has established partnerships with shooters to support the control of feral animals such as goats, pigs and foxes, he said.

But Thwaites said the Brack government is willing to work with New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to pursue listing the Alpine Parks in the three jurisdictions on the National Heritage and the World Heritage lists.