The impacts of cattle grazing in Australian alpine environments

With the decision by the federal environment minister, Tony Burke, to prevent cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park, there have been suggestions in the media by some people that cattle grazing has no or little adverse impacts in alpine environments . In contrast, many scientists have expressed concern about the impacts of cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park. What are the scientifically assessed impacts of cattle grazing in Australian alpine environments? Two notable1 publicly-available documents answer this question by summarizing the scientific evidence:

The position statement by the Ecological Society of Australia (Edit: this link is broken, but an updated summary of the evidence is here); and

The submission from the Australian Academy of Science to the Victorian Alpine Grazing Taskforce.

These two reports are brief, so you can read them for yourself, and they cite the array of original research on which they are based. However, I will provide a very quick overview here for readers of my blog.

In summary, cattle grazing in alpine environments:

  • leads to more bare ground due to trampling, increasing erosion potential;
  • damages wetland plant communities, which increases erosion potential, changes streamflow, and reduces the ability to filter contaminants;
  • changes the composition and diversity of native plant communities due to selective grazing;
  • changes the structure of plant communities; and
  • enhances spread of weeds.

These reports show that the federal environment minister has a large body of scientific research to support his claim that cattle grazing has adverse environmental impacts in alpine environments.

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1. These documents were carefully prepared by leading scientists with relevant expertise. The Ecological Society of Australia and Australian Academy of Science are the preeminent scientific organizations that are relevant to this field of research. The Ecological Society of Australia is the main scientific society for ecology in Australia. The Australian Academy of Science is one of three learned academies in Australia. Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science are recognized by their peers as making major contributions to science. It is the peak scientific society in Australia.

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About Michael McCarthy

I conduct research on environmental decision making and quantitative ecology. My teaching is mainly at post-grad level at The University of Melbourne.
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