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Cattle return to Alpine National Park

Graphic: Jamie Brown

Graphic: Jamie Brown

Cattle have returned to the Alpine National Park for the first time in three years, with animals released in recent days under the Napthine government's grazing trial.

It is understood that a little under 60 cows were brought into the park either on Wednesday night or Thursday morning, marking the start of the program.

The move follows the state government getting approval for its grazing plans from federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt earlier this month. The state government says the trial will test whether cattle grazing lowers bushfire risk by reducing fuel loads.

Local cattlemen support the trial, saying grazing in the park is part of their long-standing cultural heritage.

Local cattlemen support the trial, saying grazing in the park is part of their long-standing cultural heritage. Photo: Justin McManus

Local cattlemen support the trial, saying grazing in the park is part of their long-standing cultural heritage. But conservationists are aghast, saying past research has shown no link between grazing and bushfire prevention and pointing to the damage cows do to pristine alpine environments.

Under the three-year trial, 60 cows were allowed to be released into the park's Wonnangatta Valley in the first year of the program. In the second and third years, up to 300 cows can be introduced, though Mr Hunt would need to approve the expansion and extra years first.

Graeme Stoney from the Mountain Cattlemen's Association of Victoria confirmed cows had been released into the Alpine National Park in the last 24 hours, but said he was not in a position to comment further for a few days.

The Victorian National Parks Association's Phil Ingamells said the trial was not science, rather a political promise to the cattlemen to protect their privledged grazing rights in the park.

"Decades of evidence show how much grazing harms the park. But it does nothing to reduce grazing risk," he said.

State Environment Minister Ryan Smith said: "The trial has commenced under the strict environmental conditions set by the federal government."

"The Coalition Government is proud of its bushfire mitigation efforts. We will now get on with the trial."

Cattle grazing was first removed from the alpine park in 2005 by the Bracks government. After coming to power in 2010, the Victorian Coalition government reinstalled grazing under a earlier incarnation of its bushfire trial in 2011. They were later ordered to remove them by the Gillard government because they had not sought approval under federal environment laws.

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