Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cattle Banned! Finally some protection for Victoria's High Plains

Victoria's high country is safe from cattle grazing in the national park. The Victorian Government says it is not ruling out a High Court challenge, but lets hope they don't waste their money. It's enough that they've reneged on other environmentally important issues, like restricting wind farms.

After the cattle were kicked out last time around, the plants grew profusely. I've been visiting the high plains for forty years and, until a couple of years after the cattle had left, I had never in my life seen such a density of growth with so many different plants growing together.

Here is the media release from Tony Burke MP, the Federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities:
A proposal by the Victorian Government to reintroduce cattle to the National Heritage listed Alpine National Park in Victoria has been determined to be clearly unacceptable under national environmental law and will not proceed.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said after careful consideration he had accepted the advice of the Environment Department that the proposal to reintroduce cattle to the Alpine National Park would have a clearly unacceptable impact on the national heritage values of the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves National Heritage Place.

In December, the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment submitted a proposal to the Federal Government for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 to reintroduce up to 400 cattle to graze in the state's Alpine National Park for up to five months a year for five years, as a research trial.

Nine out of the 10 sites selected by the Victorian Government are partly or entirely located within the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves which was included on the National Heritage List in 2008. The area contains a number of important ecological environments.

Last year, the Federal Government made regulatory changes that formally recognise the significant impact of livestock grazing on the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves National Heritage place under the EPBC Act.

The regulation specifies that grazing of domestic stock including cattle could have a significant impact on the heritage values of the Australian Alps Heritage Area and that any future new grazing activities proposed in the Australian Alps Heritage Area, including the Alpine National Park, need to be assessed under the EPBC Act.

"My decision is based on a thorough and rigorous assessment of the proposal, taking into account the advice of my department," Mr Burke said.

"I have accepted the advice of my department that the proposed action of reintroducing up to 400 cattle would have a clearly unacceptable impact on the listed national heritage values of the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves National Heritage Place.

"The assessment has shown there is irrefutable evidence that cattle grazing would damage the sensitive natural environment, disturb the remote and wild character of the area, detract from aesthetic values, and erode its heritage values.

"While my personal views on this matter are known, in determining this decision I have considered only whether or not the proposed action would be in breach of the EPBC Act.

The Alpine National Park forms part of the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves national heritage place that was listed on the National Heritage List to identify and protect the wide range of nationally significant natural and cultural values found within it. The parks and reserves extend over the Victorian, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory borders and in total cover over 1.6 million hectares.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scientists say the Draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan should be scrapped

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists have called for the Draft Murray Darling Basin Plan, released last month, to be scrapped

They say the plan should be started afresh. Not throwing out all the work they've done - but they need to completely re-think what the plan is meant to be a plan of (water management, irrigation, environmental flows and so forth). It's not a plan yet and it won't do the job.

This is the next episode in the ongoing sad saga of planning for the Murray Darling Basin.

Previously - Mike Taylor quit as Chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, saying the government set impossible expectations that could not be delivered and were not in accordance with the Water Act. He had just released the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan, flagging "a long-term average increase of 7,600 GL/y (would mean) the environmental targets are all met and all catchments improve from their existing status to good flow levels".

The Minister then appointed former NSW Labor MP Craig Knowles as Chair. Shortly afterwards, Wentworth Group of Scientists who were consulting on the plan quit. They said the process itself was flawed and that a decision had already been made that the minimum flows required (4,000 GL/year) would not be met.

Knowles released the draft Basin Plan last month, which only provides for environmental flows of 2,750 GL/year.

The prospects for the Murray Darling have fallen a lot, as shown by:

2010 - Desirable 7600 GL/year
2010 - Probably target 4000 GL/year
2011 - 2750 GL/year - less 2600 GL/year removed from groundwater.

From the Wentworth Group of Scientists:

The draft Plan released for public comment by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority on the 28 November 2011 does not provide the most basic information required to allow anybody to make an informed decision on the future management of the water resources of the Basin.
The absence of this information makes it impossible for the community, science or Parliament to understand the implications or have confidence the Plan has any prospect of delivering a healthy working river:
  1. The Plan specifies a volume of water but it does not identify the volume of water required to deliver a healthy working river, as required by the Commonwealth Water Act;
  2. The Plan cites river management infrastructure as the limiting factor however there is no assessment of the feasibility or cost of redesigning river management infrastructure (such as periodically flooding paddocks or raising the height of a bridge) so that a healthy working river can be delivered;
  3. The Plan does not incorporate in the modelling the impact that increasing groundwater extractions by over 2,600GL will have on surface water flows, many of the groundwater systems in the Basin are linked to river systems;
  4. The Plan sets long term diversion limits on the assumption that there is no risk to river health from climate change; and
  5. There is no information presented on the effectiveness of the Plan to cope with long dry periods such as that experienced throughout the Basin during most of the last decade, or deliver the volumes of water required keep the Murray mouth open as a functioning (Ramsar listed) estuary and export the 2,000,000 tonnes of salt accumulating in the river system each year.

Details of their statement can be found here.

We'll probably be into the next drought within the next year or two. What will happen then? I do hope it is not too late for the Coorong and the red gum plains along the Murray.