National park controlled burns, grazing debate reignited

WOULD fewer homes and stock be destroyed by fire if grazing and more controlled burns were allowed in national parks?

It's a debate which has been going on between land-owners and environmentalists for decades and, once again, a national bushfire crisis has brought it back into the spotlight.

Victorian farmer Bernard Whelan is leading the fight for cattle to be allowed back into the state's national parks to reduce the fuel loads which allow fires to spread so quickly.

He told the Area News that last week's fires had come dangerously close to the Cuba State Forest where an "environmental tragedy was waiting to happen".

He said since National Parks and Wildlife had banned the cattle from grazing, the fuel loads, particularly after heavy rain, had "taken off" and he feared that if a fire reached the forest edge "there would be no way to stop it".

Last year Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu announced he would reintroduce cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park but Federal Environment Minister Tony Bourke overruled the decision saying it was "clearly unacceptable under national environmental law and will not proceed".

Mr Bourke's NSW colleague, Greens environmental spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann took the same line when Environment Minister Robyn Parker announced a grazing trial in the state's national parks last year.

But while State Government has accepted research undertaken in alpine areas has shown there is no evidence to suggest grazing reduces the size of wildfires, they are still prepared to give it ago.

A spokeswoman for Parks and Wildlife said on Wednesday the department recognised the "terrible impact" fires had on land in the recent fires and the trial of grazing in south-west national parks would "examine the social, economic and ecological impacts of grazing".

She also said the department had increased hazard reduction by about 51% compared to the past five years and had targeted more than 135,000ha to be treated this year.

The only major fires still burning in Australia are in national parks.

In Victoria, a fire in the Baw Baw National Park has destroyed five homes and in NSW a fire in the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran has claimed 53 homes.

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