Desperate times call for desperate measures say farmers
WHEN primary producers met last month to brainstorm strategies for navigating their way through drought and bushfire there was one topic which kept emerging.
The relationship between farmers and National Parks has a long and chequered history and after the bushfires there have been renewed calls from some quarters for a relaxing of restrictions on grazing within these protected zones.
One such proponent is Lawrence cattle farmer John Hoy, whose property adjoins the Everlasting Swamp National Park, 1500 hectares of coastal wetlands officially protected in 2014.
Mr Hoy said he had only just kept his cattle alive during the drought, and likened grazing cattle next to the park as like being allowed only a dry biscuit during a Christmas lunch.
"If you are sitting there with a 'Sao' (biscuit) at a Christmas dinner and nobody is sitting on the other side of the table with a big plump roast turkey there, what would you do?" he said.
"The cattle are the same, they know where the good feed is and any cattleman worth his salt will put his cattle on the good grass."
While Mr Hoy recognised hoofed animals had an impact on the parks, he said it was negated after significant flooding as the water soaked into the ground.
Mr Hoy also said in some areas there would be the benefit of a reduction in bushfire fuel load.
That was another key issue for primary producers at the forum last month and there have been suggestions from some within the National Party and within the farming community more broadly to use stock grazing in National Parks as a way to mitigate bushfire risk.
However, John Edwards, of the Clarence Environment Centre, warned against using bushfire as a reason to allow grazing in areas which had been protected for their ecological value.
Mr Edwards said any reduction in fuel was simply a reduction in vegetation which was itself a reduction in biodiversity.
He said the centre had assessed the impact of grazing in the Boundary Creek State Forest 15 years ago.
They found the cattle barely ventured away from the creeks and gullies, soiling the creeks, destroying riparian vegetation and the fragile banks when climbing in and out of them. The eroded soil was then washed downstream during the next significant rain event.
"National Parks protect endangered plants that are headed to extinction if current trends aren't reversed," Mr Edwards said.
"The last thing we need is cattle trampling all over them."