Alpine grazing: does it reduce blazing?

Alpine grazing: does it reduce blazing?

Hot Topics in Ecology

Alpine grazing: does it reduce blazing?

Synthesis by Dr Richard Williams, CSIRO Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre, and Imogen Fraser, The University of Melbourne
Cattle on the Bogong High Plains following the 2003 fires. Photo Carl-Henrik Wahren

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.

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
Email: dickwilliams1955@gmail.com
Phone: 08 89448426

Date approved: 
Monday, December 2, 2013 - 19:44
ID Title Location Type
6730 Williams R.J., Wahren C.H.A., Tolsma A.D., SaneckI G.M., Papst W.A., Myers B.A., McDougall K.L., Heinze D.A., Green K. (2008) Large fires in Australian alpine landscapes: their part in the historical fire regime and their impacts on alpine biodiversity. I Mainland alpine landscapes,south east Australia Review
6729 Williams R.J., Papst W.A., McDougall K.L., Mansergh I.M., Heinze D., Camac J.S., Nash M.A., Morgan J.W., Hoffmann A.A. (2014) Alpine ecosystems. In: Biodiversity and Environmental Change: Monitoring, Challenges and Direction. (Eds: Lindenmayer D, Burns Australian Alps bioregion Review
6728 Walsh N.G., McDougall K.L. (2004) Progress in the recovery of the flora of treeless subalpine vegetation in Kosciuszko National Park after the 2003 fires. Cunninghamia 8, 439–452. Treeless subalpine plains, Kosciuszko National Park, New South Whales, Australia Natural experiment
6727 Wahren C.H.A., Papst W.A., Williams R.J. (2001) Early post-fire regeneration in subalpine heathland and grassland in the Victorian Alpine National Park, south-eastern Australia. Austral Ecology 26, 670–679. Holmes Plains and Wellington Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Natural experiment
6726 Camac J.S., Williams R.J., Wahren C.H., Morris W.K., Morgan J.W. (2013) Post-fire regeneration in alpine heathland: Does fire severity matter? Austral Ecology 38, 199–207. Bogong High Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Natural experiment
6725 Williams R.J., Ashton D.H. (1987) Effects of disturbance and grazing by cattle on the dynamics of heathland and grassland communities on the Bogong High Plains, Victoria. Australian Journal of Botany 35, 413–431. Bogong High Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Manipulative experiment
6724 Wahren C.H.A., Papst W.A., Williams R.J. (1994) Long-term vegetation change in relation to cattle grazing in subalpine grassland and heathland on the Bogong High Plains: an analysis of vegetation records from 1945 to 1994. Australian Journal of Botany 42, Bogong High Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Manipulative experiement
6718 Williamson G.J., Murphy B.P., Bowman D.M.J.S. (in press) Cattle grazing does not reduce fire severity in eucalypt forests and woodlands of the Australian Alps, Austral Ecology early online The Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Pre-existing contrasts
6717 Williams R.J., Wahren C.H.A., Bradstock R.A., Muller W.J. (2006) Does alpine grazing reduce blazing? A landscape test of a widely-held hypothesis. Austral Ecology 31, 925–936. Bogong High Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Natural experiment
6716 van Rees H., Hutson G.D. (1983) The behaviour of free-ranging cattle on an alpine range in Australia. Journal of Range Management 36, 1983. Bogong High Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Natural history
6715 Van Rees H., Holmes J.H.G. (1986) The Botanical Composition of the Diet of Free-Ranging Cattle on the Alpine Range in Australia. Journal of Range Management 39, 392–395. Bogong High Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Natural history/ manipulative experiment
6714 van Rees H. (1982) The diet of free-ranging cattle on the Bogong High Plains, Victoria. Australian Rangeland Journal 4, 29–33. Bogong High Plains, Australian Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia Natural history/natural experiment
6713 Leonard, S., Kirkpatrick, J., Marsden Smedley, J. (2010) Variation in the effects of vertebrate grazing on fire potential between grassland structural types. Journal of Applied Ecology 47, 876–883. Grasslands, Tasmania, Australia Manipulative experiment
6712 Gibson N., Kirkpatrick J.B. (1989) Effects of cessation of grazing on the grasslands and grassy woodlands of the central plateau, Tasmania. Australian Journal of Botany 37, 55–63. Central Plateau, Tasmania, Australia Manipulative experiement, with pre-existing gradient