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Cattle in national parks

Should government allow 25,000 cattle to starve or does it allow them to graze (until the next wet season) in protected nature reserves where they will certainly damage the natural environment? If this is an accurate way of posing the issues – I am unsure that the choices are as stark as this* –  there is a real ethical dilemma. Economists tend to see these choices as involving choices at the margin whereas conservationists tend to emphasise the principle that nature reserves should be for nature.  In addition, the decision to allow grazing creates a precedent for implementing the same  actions in the future.  In the link the RSPCA is listed as a pressure group favouring grazing – hardly surprising given their ambivalent attitudes towards nature and their attitudes toward the feral cats-type issues.

I reserve my judgment on the broad question posed –  my biases are towards the views of the conservationists – but would be interested to learn the views of others.  Crucial question: how damaging is the grazing?  Should nature be assigned priority over human-raised animal populations?

* Is an alternative to cull the drought-endangered cattle?  This would be the standard (and probably optimal) approach to drought were there no reserve-grazing options and the initial allocation of land between conservation and agricultural uses is not biased against agricultural interests. The sometimes-cited argument that cattle-grazing will remove combustible material in nature reserves is dubious.

6 comments to Cattle in national parks

  • Tony Healy

    I’m not familiar with this particular case but, in general, I would oppose the cattle being allowed to use the reserves.

    It’s a simple economics issue. Graziers with too many cattle have overstocked. Letting them use reserves now will simply endorse poor management practices and encourage the same thing to happen in the future.

    As to the effect on reserves, it is significant, especially with high stocking rates. Cattle remove ground cover, start erosion and change the composition of plant types and small fauna. This is particularly noticeable in dry country such as north west Queensland.

  • It is clear Harry has a beef with them

  • conrad

    I agree with Tony — if this really is a one-off (and given the current weather, it’s hard to see how it is), they should just import feed.

  • rog

    The principal purpose of national paks is compromised by grazing; cattle compact soil, destroy habitat, spread weeds and foul waterways. However benefits of excluding grazing are hard to justify to the many who do not use the park resources.

    Its an argument as old as Cain and Abel and for the moment graziers are winning some points.

  • Liam Lenten

    Our former colleague, Neil Perry, had something to say about this on The Conversation yesterday. Check it out!

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