Cattle Grazing – Buffel Grass & Fires On National Parks

Wattle and Hovea near Isla Gorge

Wattle and Hovea near Isla Gorge

The Upper Dawson Branch has been advocating for years that National Parks that contain areas of Buffel and other introduced grasses have to manage this introduced pasture differently from the native grasses for fire control.

Our overall aim is to control the bulk and height and therefore the burning characteristics of these introduced grasses.  When this fire fuel bulk is reduced, the timber re-growth will eventually predominate and these areas will slowly revert back to scrub again.  This will take some time of careful management.

Our native grasses evolved in conjunction with our native timbers and also the fact that the continent did not have herds of four-legged, hoofed grazing animals to support.  The introduced grasses that flourish in the Brigalow Belt all evolved on other continents to feed large herds of grazing animals.  The introduction of these grasses has therefore enabled the cattle industry in Queensland to support a vastly increased herd with a much more constant ability to feed them over the twelve months weather cycle.

However, if these grasses are not grazed over the cycle they grow into a bulk of fodder that then becomes dry and presents an extremely dangerous fire hazard.  Buffel Grass also burns at a hotter temperature than most native grasses.  Our native timbers did not evolve to survive this increase in fuel bulk, plus increase in temperature and as a consequence are easily killed. Our experience has shown us that while cattle will do some damage to the natural ecosystems in our parks even when this grazing is managed, a hot Buffel Grass fire is capable of  wiping them out completely.

Certain National Parks in Queensland have already been severely damaged by fire because the Buffel Grass in them has not been grazed.  Our branch members, with years of experience with managing cattle, Buffel Grass, and fires, realize that this management has to be implemented to save these areas from extreme fire damage.

To achieve this aim, we have always advocated that PLANNED – CONTROLLED – STRATEGIC GRAZING TO A PLAN be introduced to National Park areas containing exotic grasses.  This would involve, among other things, strict management of the number of cattle and the time in the cycle at which the grazing is done.  Because of these conditions, we have always envisaged that cattle from a neighbour would suit this exercise.  They would be put in and out as the seasons and conditions of the pasture on the park dictated with a minimum of disturbance to the cattle.

Opening these Parks to cattle from some distance away for drought relief would present problems that would have to be carefully thought through.  For example, there would have to be a strict exit strategy in place.  This could present problems if the Park is grazed down to the acceptable level as determined by the STRATEGIC GRAZING PLAN and the drought has not broken or there was nowhere else for the cattle to go to keep them alive.

Additional Parks staff with grazing management knowledge must be appointed to ensure that the environmental values of the Parks are protected.  It would also be desirable to degazette buffel-infested National Parks and regazette them ‘National Park – Scientific’ with funds to engage scientists in determining how to protect the natural values of the remnant vegetation in the presence of or proximity to exotic grasses.

While supporting the use of cattle to control excess fire fuel in National Parks, our branch does not support any move to make all National Parks accessible to continuous grazing.  This move to allow drought affected cattle access to surplus grass in Parks is only supported if the above conditions to do with management are adhered to explicitly.

We must be careful that this move is not seen by cattle producers and politicians as the “thin edge of the wedge” to gain permanent access.  We would have to be very aware that a State Government with a large majority and no Upper House Of Review could be tempted to ride rough shod over LONG TERM MANAGEMENT of our National Parks for political reasons.

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