Starving cattle to graze in Queensland National Parks

Predictably, conservationists are jumping up and down about the prospect of certain (starving) cattle being allowed to graze in some of Queensland’s National Parks.

Quite a few of the parks being considered would already have (feral) cattle in them, and all would have been cattle stations at one time.  They were made National Parks due to the abundance of native flora and fauna existing there, in harmony with the extensively grazed cattle.

Media statements from organisations such as Bush Heritage Australia have remained completely unchallenged by journalists and editors; with Bush Heritage Australia media releases repeatedly published and broadcast verbatim. Bush Heritage has crowed long & loud about how many species have been found on Ethabulka Station, for example, while at the same time deriding the environmental impact of pastoralism. Which begs the question; where did this plethora of native animals come from, if decades of cattle grazing is so detrimental to the landscape? Did these native animals, large and small, walk in from surrounding areas…(also cattle stations)? Or did they drop from heaven? Or were they actually there all along, uncounted and unstudied, happily co-existing alongside cattle, and even benefiting from the provision of permanent water supplies?

I also can’t help wondering what these conservation groups do regarding water supplies when they purchase a station like Ethabulka, in such a low rainfall area.  Do they disconnect all the windmills/bore pumps and drain all the dams, thus leaving the native animals that have benefited from the provision of a reliable water supply, to tough out months or years with next to no rainfall, as they would have done prior to white settlement?

Journalists have absolutely not been doing the job they are theoretically trained to do on this issue – not even asking the most obvious questions (not to mention the less obvious but equally important).

  1. Most National Parks have been declared National Parks because of the diversity of native flora and fauna which exists there already.
  2. Most were cattle or sheep stations, usually for more than 100 years.
  3. Speaks for itself really, doesn’t it!

Groups such as Bush Heritage Australia love to paint themselves as saviours of Australian native animals and the media have happily conspired to help them along this path.  What an injustice, when it is actually pastoralists – who love the environment they live on – who have been the real, long-term, unpaid and unrecognised custodians.

There are many benefits in keeping land in the hands of primary producers:

  • Family ownership and steady company ownership of these properties ensures people are living there 24/7 week in/week out year after year; even in the case of company ownership, the same managers can be living there for many decades.  This is typical in Queensland’s Channel Country, where an unsurpassed depth of climate and environment knowledge has built up over generations. Compare this with the public service-type employment of conservation groups; (short term tenure, many holidays/days off and very defined hours of work) and there’s absolutely no contest to determine who has the greater environmental knowledge for that specific area.
  • Where does the money come from to eradicate weeds and feral animals?  If a commercial enterprise such as livestock grazing is in place, then it’s a win/win for all.  1. The business makes money to re-invest back into the property, in terms of dealing with weed infestations and   feral pigs, dogs, horses, donkeys, camels, rabbits, foxes etc.  Many roo shooters also dispense with the feral cats they see hunting native animals at night. 2. The livestock grazing business has a vested interest in keeping up these types of environmental practices, and the vast majority of people who live on large cattle stations absolutely love the land they live on and do the best they can to look after it on a daily basis anyway (not just for commercial reasons).
  • Well respected rangeland grazing management experts such as Alan Savory and Terry McCosker, run programmes showing well managed, controlled grazing is far better for the environment than under-grazing.  And uncontrolled undergrowth build-up in National Parks has caused environmentally catastrophic, intense bushfires – decimating native flora and fauna – time and time again.
  • Employment and numbers of residents in rural/remote areas – Cattle stations in northern Australia usually have a whole family living on site year-round; many have several employees as well, and some have as many as a dozen or more people living there all year round.  Their business circulates large amounts of money through surrounding businesses, helping to keep Australia’s whole economy rolling along, and our population less urbanised and centralised than would otherwise be the case.
  • De-population by expanding National Parks is a particularly significant issue in areas such as WA’s north Kimberley region and Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, where pastoral residents are an unpaid but invaluable biosecurity/quarantine front line against illegal smuggling activities (native animals, and people) and pest/disease incursions (via air, birds and water) from South East Asia.
  • Australia is in the top 3 red meat exporting countries in the world – these cattle stations earn a huge amount of export income – that is reinvested back into looking after the environment, paying for infrastructure, etc.  So isn’t it ironic!  The export income earned by cattle stations is paying the wages, costs and for equipment used by research scientists visiting cattle stations that are no longer commercial enterprises, such as Ethabulka…while at the same time cattle station residents nearby are also managing their own natural environment in a responsible manner, but all the while unpaid and unrecognised!

For goodness sake, when are Australian journalists going to wake up, do they job they’re paid to do, and start examining the facts objectively rather than swallowing whole propaganda emanating from Bush Heritage Australia etc?  This farce has continued for a ridiculously long time!  Here’s a couple of the most appalling examples of poor treatment of cattle station owners – which have virtually been ignored by Australia’s media:

  • Lifetime Cape York Peninsula residents, the Shephards, were forced to sell their family home for generations back to the Queensland Government as they were refused a pastoral lease renewal. This is despite Lilyvale Station being the only long-term profitable cattle station on the whole East coast of Cape York Peninsula, supporting a whole family, and it being conservatively managed – with a pristine environment.  The Queensland Government had no plans for Lilyvale Station. They just wanted it back in public ownership, for no particular reason.  Elders in the local aboriginal community, who the Shephard family had a good relationship with, stated at the time they were not interested in owning it or living there. Lilyvale Station was located next to what was already Queensland’s second largest National Parks, Lakefield  (now also known as “Rinyirru“).  Despite the massive size and location on what is a smuggler’s paradise coastline, Lakefield National Park was flat out having a single full time ranger there to look after it!  It is closed to the (lawful) public for 5-6 months of the year over the wet season.  After wandering around indecisively the Queensland Government asked the Shephards if they were interested in leasing back the family home of more than 80 years, and Lilyvale Station ownership has now been handed to local aboriginal people, with the Shephards engaged to show them how to run it as a profitable cattle business over a decade.  A google search on the topic brings up a plethora of breathy media releases (most repeated verbatim, as usual) regarding the hand back to the Lama Lama people…but not a single question regarding the justice of it, let alone a single mention of the fact that there’s a truckload of other ex-cattle stations there already in aboriginal hands so why the desperate need for one more, when locals weren’t clamouring for it themselves?
  • The family on Riversleigh Station (Gulf Country) were kicked off their cattle station because ‘cattle would damage the fossils’… only to discover that huge chunks of rock were then being blasted apart and loaded onto roadtrains and transported to a southern university for examination.  The cattle and fossils trapped in solid rock co-existed happily for more than 100 years, and could have continued on doing so, with areas deemed sensitive carefully fenced off and university researchers being allowed access to study the fossils on site.  Didn’t hear a lot about that travesty in the news either, did you!

Long term, what is going to happen to these huge tracts of land removed from pastoral production?  Keeping on top of weed infestations and feral animals is a constant and expensive battle.  Where is the ad infinitum money going to come from to manage these vast areas properly?  It is infinitely more sensible, in every way, to run most of these places as cattle stations, and put the money into assisting the landholder with specific conservation-related management projects, while setting aside particular parts of the cattle station for public visitation.  Vital management includes not just managing feral species, but fencing off different land types (allowing much better grazing management) and creek/riverbanks; providing carefully managed artificial water supplies and capping artesian bores, etc.  What is so often forgotten is that only tiny areas of the largest national parks are accessible to the public – there are few roads, and often they’re only open during the dry season anyway.

How much better would it be to run these vast areas as cattle stations! Creating an income that helps pay for conservation, and providing employment; with sensitive areas fenced off and specific areas set aside for the public to visit.  A current resident could be paid to work as a ranger; working part-time but living there full-time. How much better than a public service short-tenure ranger would that be!

There’s a very, very obvious ‘we must own it at all cost’ mentality amongst Australian conservationists that I just don’t understand.  At the heart of it, it seems to me to be sheer, chip-on-the-shoulder jealousy. As in ‘how dare these people own this beautiful piece of countryside; they don’t deserve it, we’ll use whatever argument we can find to take it from them’.   As a consequence conservation money is being squandered when it could be so much more efficiently and effectively used.  The overall conservation result is far below what it would be if a collaborative approach was undertaken.

  • Most people live on large cattle stations because they love the bush – i.e. most care about the plants, animals and land and want to do what they can to preserve the natural environment for future generations. Urban residents who belong to conservation groups don’t have a monopoly on caring for the environment (in fact, judging by the backyards of many – so often devoid of native flora and fauna – it could be argued it’s NIMBY at work; a very shallow level of care anyway).
  • Conservation is a middle class luxury.  You won’t find a lot of people scraping by on the poverty line, putting thought into whether or not the Night Parrot still exists. Conservation is expensive. The money has to come from somewhere.  How much more intelligent it is to keep businesses functioning, which creates a larger pool of money to be sunk into conservation capital works.  This would be win/win for all involved (people and the natural environment).

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