J.-M. LA ROQUE/ARDEA.

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NEWS IN FOCUS
forests and parks for Victoria. He defends the
lack of baseline data, saying that, for a large
landscape-scale trial, such data would need
to have been kept for decades to be relevant.
“Some of these scientists have been trained on
small plots and don’t understand landscapescale experiments,” he adds.
Libby Rumpff, an ecologist at the University
of Melbourne and an organizer of the scientific
protest, disagrees. “It doesn’t matter what scale
you are looking at, you should be collecting
baseline data,” she says.
The Melbourne newspaper The Sunday Age
has charged the Victoria government with trying to blackmail the University of Melbourne
into participating in the trial by threatening its
state funding, a charge the government denies.
And John DuBois, a spokesman for the university, says that researchers at its School of
Cattle have been released into parts of Australia’s Alpine National Park, despite a ban on grazing there.
Land and Environment have told the government that the trial may amount to repetition
ECOLOGY
of previous work. The university has no plans
to participate directly.
Mark Adams, an ecologist at the University
of Sydney, has been invited by the Victoria
government to “lead the program of research
that will accompany” the trial, according to
Victoria’s website. Adams says that no contract
has been signed between the university and the
government, “and without a contract I won’t
be doing anything”. If a contract is signed, he
Researchers question science behind controversial effort to
adds, he won’t be designing a trial, but merely
“testing methods suitable for measuring the
examine cattle’s role in controlling bushfires.
impact of cattle on fuels and on ecosystem
functions”. Adams says that he has taken a lot
BY EMMA MARRIS
pledge by Victoria’s centre-right coalition, of flak for his willingness to work with Victowhich was narrowly elected last November.
ria, but feels that academics “have a duty to
o ecologists overseas, the invitation
In the 1950s, as many as 100,000 head of work with government to try to get the best
might sound tempting. It offers travel Aberdeen Angus and Hereford grazed in the outcomes in the public interest”.
to Australia and unspecified remunera- park, according to Mark Coleman, president
On 18 March, Tony Burke, Australia’s envition to serve on an advisory panel considering of the Mountain Cattlemen’s Association ronment minister, demanded that the state
a juicy scientific question: could allowing of Victoria. Gradual restrictions since then ask the federal government for approval to
cattle to graze in the country’s Alpine National culminated in a park-wide grazing ban
release the cattle. The demand means
Park — the picturesque setting for the film The in 2005 after a Victoria government
that the cattle must be removed from
Man from Snowy River — reduce the risk of review found that cattle didn’t reduce
the park until the federal governbushfires? Those responding to the call, issued the intense wildfires that can
ment has reviewed the matter. But
by the federal state of Victoria at the beginning visit the region, but that their
even without this demand, the
AUSTRALIA
of March, might not realize that it also involves hooves, grazing and manure
animals’ time in the highlands
Alpine
walking into a serious stoush — that’s Austral- damage sensitive wetland
is almost up. Winter snows
National Park
ian for fight.
ecosystems.
will arrive soon, and the cattle
More than 100 Australian ecologists have
Coleman says that the cattle
would have been taken down
signed a letter to the Australian government do stop fires, by eating the vegfrom the mountains by middenouncing the trial. The letter’s organizers etation that forms potential fuel, and that
April anyway. Furthermore, it is
claim that the trial is a naked attempt to use the ecologists have ignored mountain cattlemen’s not clear what the federal decision means for
imprimatur of science to allow cattle to graze in knowledge of the land. “We’ve got generational the “excellent international candidates” who
an ecologically sensitive area, and they now fear knowledge that goes back — 150 years in my Appleford says have already applied to sit on
that international scientists ignorant of the ruse family. You can’t buy that knowledge; you can’t the advisory panel.
will be duped into lending credibility to the learn it in a university.”
The point of the episode, says Garrard, is
project. “It’s a misuse of the word science to jusIn January, when 400 head of cattle were “that science shouldn’t be misused for political
tify a political decision,” says Georgia Garrard, allowed back into the park, the government of gain”. Coleman sees both sides as politicized.
an ecologist at the University of Melbourne Victoria announced that they were part of a The ecologists have been “indoctrinated” by
who helped to organize the protest letter.
research trial. Opponents of the move argue politicians on the left, he says, whereas the coaThe decision in question is the return of that no baseline data were taken and that the lition is trying to deliver on a political promise.
cattle to portions of the 646,000-hectare park, trial has not been designed. Designing the “Ninety per cent of the general public couldn’t
a landscape of deep ravines, high plateaux and trial will be one of the advisory panel’s tasks, give a shit about the cattle or the environment,”
snow gum trees. The move fulfils a campaign says Peter Appleford, executive director of he says. “At the end of the day, it is all politics.” ■

Australian grazing
trial ignites debate

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4 2 2 | NAT U R E | VO L 4 7 1 | 2 4 M A RC H 2 0 1 1

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