Alpine grazing: does it reduce blazing?

A large body of evidence shows that it does not
Synthesis by Dr Richard Williams, CSIRO Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, and Imogen Fraser, The University of Melbourne

There have been recent calls by the Victorian Mountain Cattlemen’s Association to re-introduce cattle grazing in the Victorian Alpine National Park to reduce fire risk.

Strong evidence gathered over many years convincingly shows that cattle grazing in the Australian high country does not reduce the risk of fire.

Reintroduction of cattle to the Alpine National Park is extremely unlikely to reduce fire risk, but is highly likely to damage sensitive alpine soils and vegetation.

The Victorian Mountain Cattlemen’s Association has called for the re-introduction of cattle grazing in the Victorian Alpine National Park to reduce fire risk, based on their view that ‘alpine grazing reduces blazing’. However, a substantial body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicates that alpine grazing does not reduce fire risk.

Cattle on the Bogong High Plains following the 2003 fires. Photo Carl-Henrik Wahren

Detailed studies of the 2003 and 2007 fires in the Victorian Alpine National Park showed that cattle grazing had little or no effect on occurrence and/or severity of fire in the alpine vegetation above treeline, and in the surrounding subalpine woodland and montane forest. Flammability depended largely on vegetation type. For example, the 2003 fires on the Bogong High Plains burnt 87% of closed heathland and 59% of open heathland, but only 13% of grassland; grazing did not reduce the incidence of fire in any of these vegetation types.

Cattle graze selectively and this partly explains why grazing had little effect on the patterns of burning. On the Bogong High Plains detailed studies have shown that cattle prefer to graze on the grasses and herbs of the more open vegetation types such as grassland and open heathland, and avoid eating the tall shrubs of the closed heathland. Long-term monitoring on the Bogong High Plains for over 50 years has shown that cattle grazing has not reduced the cover of tall shrubs that dominate the most flammable vegetation – closed heathland.

Victoria’s alpine vegetation is resilient to large fires and there is no apparent conservation imperative to mitigate the extent or severity of large fires. Livestock grazing, on the other hand, has well-documented negative impacts on the conservation values of Australia’s rare alpine and subalpine ecosystems. There is therefore no scientific basis to support the re-introduction of cattle grazing to reduce fire risk in Australian alpine and subalpine ecosystems.

Hot Topic Lead Author:
Name: Dr Dick Williams
Phone: 61-404958679

Original source and access to all the papers related here:

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