After months of negotiation between the Victorian and Federal Governments, 57 head of cattle arrived in the Wonnangatta Valley on the 19th of March 2014, to take part in a three year trial to assess if cattle reduce fuel loads in grazing zones of the Alpine National Park.
These cattle are regarded as an “advance party” for next season. It is understood by the Department and research team that the late entry of the cattle combined with the low numbers grazing in the large trial area will have minimal effect on reducing fuel loads this season. This first year is being regarded as a chance to demonstrate cattle can be walked in on the original stock routes and to prove the Mountain Cattlemen retain the knowledge to carry out this droving art. The Minister for Environment, Ryan Smith MP met the Cattlemen as they arrived at the Wonnangatta trial site with the cattle.
This year’s droving exercise went without a hitch and when the mob arrived they were placed in a large secure area west of the Dry River and contained with electric fencing. Note: The public need to be aware that electrified fencing, which keeps the cattle contained and which has been installed by DEPI, has an electrical current. Anyone touching the wires will receive an electric shock; this can be hazardous to your health and should be avoided. Apart from the main East and West boundary fence, the trial site contains several small fenced ‘control’ areas which are also electrified.
When the cattle arrived, the trial area contained old and rank vegetation which was highly flammable and was not particularly palatable to stock. This will change over the next two years as cattle eat the old grass and the new seasons grass comes through. This process, combined with judicial burning within the site, will see a trial site emerge containing mainly short green grass. Anecdotal stories from early cattlemen and original colour photos in the possession of the MCAV demonstrate that this is what the Wonnangatta valley looked like before cattle were removed. Short green vegetation will hardly carry a bushfire and certainly not a fire of any intensity, even in mid-summer.
The main track leading into Wonnangatta from the West passes through the trial site, but visitors are not impeded because two stock grids ensure vehicles can pass through the trial site without a problem. The cattle rarely, or ever this season, have even ventured on to the main track. It has been observed by our people, who have been camping with the cattle at all times throughout the trial, that four wheel drive tourists, many with families have been stopping and taking photos of the cattle. The grazing trials are a novelty and a tourist attraction to a generation of visitors who have never seen cattle grazing in the High Country. The MCAV has received many messages of support from visitors to the site and emails and calls. The track overlooks the trial site and good views of the cattle can easily be seen. Photo opportunities and personal observations of the diminishing vegetation and fuel loads due to the grazing cattle can be documented.
It is preferred people do not camp within the trial site because of the possibility of inadvertent interference with scientific measurements that are taking place. Wonnangatta valley is a huge open area with many established camp sites. It is not a problem to suggest that visitors plan to camp outside the trial site. There are no established camp sites which are ‘traditional’ camp sites that people look forward to using within the trial area.
This year’s trial mob will be taken home by the end of May. It is planned that greater numbers will be grazed on the site next grazing season.
Wonnangatta Station was settled in the late 1860’s. The Wonnangatta valley has been long regarded as the spiritual home of the Victorian Mountain Cattlemen. It was the most remote freehold in Victoria. Wonnangatta comprises significant large open grassed plains situated at approximately 490 metres. Until it was resumed by the government it had several owners from both North and South of the Great Divide. Cattle were driven to home bases on traditional stock routes which in part followed aboriginal access routes. These still exist but are now labelled as walking tracks and even horses are not allowed on some routes.
The last cattle running on Wonnangatta Station were removed by the Cain Government in 1988 when it purchased the freehold from a Mountain Cattlemen family. The Station and its leases at the time were surrounded by what was to become the Alpine National Park. This Government takeover of a significant grazing area which contained significant heritage values, created great angst among many mountain families which still prevails to this day.
The return of cattle to the valley has had an enormous healing effect on the mountain families. This year one of the requirements of the Federal Government is that the cattle have had to be supervised. Representatives of several mountain families have come to celebrate the return of the cattle to the valley by volunteering to supervise, as have many associate members and other supporters. It has been a wonderful healing exercise and there are more opportunities to be involved next year. Contact our secretary if you would like to be involved. firstname.lastname@example.org
For some years the MCAV has conducted an ongoing campaign to have more planned burning conducted in the Wonnangatta valley. Regular burning will remove years of vegetation build up, reduce the intensity of any bushfire and make the valley safer for visitors. The MCAV has taken several scientists to the valley on inspections over the years and has attracted significant media coverage for its ongoing campaign for more planned burning in the valley.
In April, DEPI and Parks Victoria conducted the first planned burn for many years between the Dry River and the Station site. The exercise was professionally conducted and a spectacular success. The MCAV points out that next year’s regrowth within the burnt area could easily be controlled by grazing if this was eventually allowed. The Mountain Cattlemen intend to comply with the trial program and stock the trial site to a realistic capacity in the summer of 2014/ 2015. This combined with a planned burning program within the trial site will see a dramatic change to the vegetation and fuel loads. The MCAV looks forward to the results.
The pictures in this slideshow are a record of this momentous event