Australia — Hundreds of high-country cattlemen and their supporters saddled-up, donned their Driza-Bone coats and rode their horses to Parliament House in June, 2005.
The rally was prompted by the Bracks Government’s decision to ban 8000 cattle from the Alpine National Park a month earlier.
The Government had agreed with the findings of an Alpine Grazing Taskforce, which said grazing damaged soil and vegetation and spread weeds.
But the cattlemen were furious, claiming they helped to actively manage the park and bureaucrats were putting an end to their way of life.
While the protest generated plenty of media coverage and sympathy, it took more than five years and a change of government for some cattle to return.
A year ago, the-then opposition picked up the fire-mitigation argument and ran with it. Nationals leader Peter Ryan and agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh announced a coalition government would reinstate grazing in the Alpine National Park to reduce fire risk on public land.
The coalition made good on the promise last week and allowed 400 cattle into the park in a “fire mitigation trial.”
The move – revealed by weeklytimesnow.com.au last Wednesday – was confirmed just in time for the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria gathering at Hinnomunjie at the weekend.
In a press release, Environment and Climate Change Minister Ryan Smith welcomed the “strategic” return of the cattle as part of a “tool to mitigate bushfire risk in Victoria’s high country”.
“This scientific trial, being undertaken by Professor Mark Adams of the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre, will provide much-needed evidence on the effectiveness of strategic cattle grazing for fuel and fire-management purposes,” Mr Smith said.
The press release was news to the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre, which said that it was not involved.
The press release also came as a surprise to Prof Adams, who said he was undertaking the work with the University of Sydney, not the Bushfire CRC.
He said he had only negotiated funding with the Department of Sustainability and Environment for the first year of the study, not six.
Prof Adams said he would not comment on whether grazing mitigated fire risk.
“What they eat means less fuel and whatever they don’t eat means more fuel,” he said.
“Both sides of the argument can exaggerate their side until the cows come home.”
Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria president Mark Coleman said the group had worked with the DSE for four to six weeks before the cattle went into the park.
He said the cattle were mustered into the park over a few days with most of them entering last Tuesday.