Cattle Still in the Barmah Forest

ON Monday, the first day of summer here in Australia, residents of the little town of Barmah in northwestern Victoria, drove cattle into their forest in defiance of a government ban.  The Department of Sustainability and Environment has threatened legal action, but so far the cattle are still there.

The forest has historically been grazed and the Barmah locals believe this is important to reduce the fire risk. 

Max Rheese explains:    

Hi Jennifer,   

Today, the first day of summer, with 80 residents of the tiny Murray River community of Barmah I helped to drive cattle into the Barmah forest in defiance of a Department of Sustainability and Environment [DSE] ban on cattle grazing in the forest.  The cattle were purchased last week by individuals in the community as part of the Barmah Community Cattle Company to be put into the forest to reduce the serious fire risk from chest high grass along the river.

On October 23rd the Barmah Grazing Advisory Committee met, as it usually does at this time, and recommended to the department that 420 cattle in total be placed in the 29,000 hectare red gum forest to graze for 2 -3 months subject to review in January 2009.  In particular, 70 cattle were recommended to be placed on the 1500 hectare part of the forest adjacent to the Barmah township for 8 weeks to reduce the fire threat to the town.  This was refused by the department who stated that no grazing would be allowed for ecological reasons.

This is a ludicrous statement as the chest high grass and weeds consist of wild oats, rye grass, Scotch thistle and Patterson’s Curse – not a native grass amongst them.  No self respecting forest manager would tolerate infestations of these species but in Barmah there is hundreds of hectares of these grasses and weeds.  Grazing should be required for ecological reasons.

DSE are required under the Forests Act to carry out fire prevention works in all forests under their control.  This year they have carried out two fuel reduction burns of less than 50 hectares in total in a 29,000 hectare forest and none of those closer than 10 km from Barmah township.  In effect, there has been no fire prevention work carried out within 10km of Barmah township this year.

Victorians have suffered badly in recent years from public land management decisions made by DSE and this can be read here in the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Impact of Public Land Management Practices on bushfires.  This decision has all the hallmarks of more bad public land management.  No fire prevention work as required under legislation, no allowance for controlled cattle grazing and nothing has been done to reduce the fire risk to Barmah or other small communities that are adjacent to public land.

The Alliance wrote to the Minister for the Environment two weeks ago asking him to direct the department to reverse their decision and advising him that cattle would be put into the forest if no action was taken.  I phoned his office last week seeking a response.  We wrote to the secretary for the department a week ago pointing out his obligations, particularly in light of the parliamentary inquiry recommendations that were very critical of his department’s fire management practices.  There was no response to any of these communications.

The community were driven by this apathetic attitude to collectively act illegally in driving the cattle into the forest – but we did get a response today!  The DSE Manager for Land and Fire stated on ABC Radio that he was disappointed at the actions of the community in putting cattle into the forest.  He then went on to say how the department had a duty of care to the community – but they have not done anything to mitigate the fire danger. 

Part of the lack of confidence at a local level in DSE’s fire management skills were highlighted on ABC television news out of Melbourne tonight where they were described as incompetent fire managers.  This was because of a poorly managed fuel reduction burn on October 16th that is highlighted on the Alliance website.

Despite this badly run burn for which the Alliance has provided the Premier’s office with a detailed report, despite the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry which are critical of the department’s land management practices, despite the support for the Alliance position of grazing as a fire mitigation tool by University of Melbourne fire ecologists, the department still does not seem to grasp that they are the problem not the solution.

Until there is a change in the public land management paradigm as outlined in the Alliance  Conservation & Community Plan Victorian’s will continue to suffer sub optimal environmental outcomes from public land managers.  

Max Rheese
Secretary, Rivers & Red Gum Environment Alliance

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25 Responses to Cattle Still in the Barmah Forest

  1. Dan W December 5, 2008 at 2:42 am #

    What a great site I really enjoy it!

    About ten years ago I was asked to contribute to a book concerning the geologic inputs (or lack thereof) to global warming models. After about two weeks of study I came to the conclusion that short term temp changes were primarily caused by extraterrestrial events. The book effort was abandoned. I was wondering of you knew of any enlightening research suggesting that comet or other dust might interfere with solar radiation between Earth and the sun?

  2. Ian Mott December 5, 2008 at 9:50 am #

    Well done Max, stick it right up there and twist it.

    Be sure to keep a video camera handy to record DSE actions from here on.

    You are on the right track. The forest at present is a “dangerous thing” as defined under the criminal code and the grazing of cattle is the most reasonable and practical step that could be taken to minimise potential harm from that dangerous thing. To not do so is a criminal act so you have not acted illegally because no law can compell you to commit a crime.

    You also have the right to use reasonable force to prevent others from committing a crime. And the removal of these cattle, without any commensurate steps to satisfy the duty of care under the criminal code, would be a criminal act.

    In any event, stare the bastards down and don’t pay a single cent in fines. Neither they nor Brumby has the balls to jail someone for an action like this, especially in the bushfire season.

    The only time to negotiate with this culpable scum is with your foot on their throats.

  3. Patrick B December 5, 2008 at 10:25 am #

    “Barmah locals believe this is important to reduce the fire risk. ”

    Interesting to see that you’ve ditched science for faith Jen. Is this the result of christian right influence on the IPA?
    And you’ve gotta love Motty. Doesn’t matter what the issue, if there’s biffo about he’s in there, a couple of paces behind, encouraging the violence. What a bunch!

  4. jennifer December 5, 2008 at 11:07 am #


    No Christian right influence on the IPA – and this is not an IPA blog. And as I wrote, the locals do “believe” grazing is important – that’s a fact that may or may not be supported by the science.

    As regards what I believe – I am against uncontrolled grazing and have written much about this in the context of the Macquarie Marshes. Indeed I am of the opinion that cattle have done much damage in the Marshes. If you google “Macquarie Marshes” at this website you will probably find much on this issue and my opinion is clear.

    The Barmah forest is a very different environment, and there may be a place for some grazing here.

  5. David Joss December 5, 2008 at 11:34 am #

    There is of course another option to grazing this area. Member of the green groups who are bullying the government into making stupid decisions could all gather for a jolly weekend armed with whipper-snippers, rakes and trailers and get rid of the grass that way.
    I doubt anyone will be hurt in the stampede to get the job done though!
    As many photos in local media have shown this is a serious fire hazard yet the DSE is bleating about the drought conditions making grazing unsustainable.
    They clearly forgot to tell the grass about the drought in this part of the forest.

  6. Janama December 5, 2008 at 1:27 pm #

    Strikes me that there are just too many organisations involved, as usual.
    A quick scan of articles related to the story found the following groups mentioned as having a stake in this affair.

    Victorian Premier John Brumby
    Rivers and Red Gum Environment Alliance – Max Rheese
    Department of Sustainability of Environment North-East Land and Fire – Peter Farrell
    CSIRO – Louise Lawrence with Matt Colloff
    Murray–Darling Basin Commission.
    Yorta Yorta Co-operative – Neville Atkinson
    Goulburn Valley Environment Group (GVEG) – Doug Robinson
    Parks Victoria
    Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority – Keith Ward,
    Giant Rush Monitoring Group.
    and of course The Barmah Cattlemen.

  7. geoff Brown December 5, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    Victorian Environmental Assessment Council

  8. Ian Mott December 5, 2008 at 10:01 pm #

    Biffo, Patrick? Who said anything about biffo, other than yourself. The folks from Barmah have every right to blockade the forest and protest about actions that pose a threat to the environment. And that would include playing a game of cross country rugby (or AFL) right in the middle of any attempts at rounding up the cattle. It would certainly include getting between DSE and any other goons with guns and the poor cattle who just want a good feed.

    In any event, it is a very “image rich” environment for a well planned protest manned by folks with balls. And I look forward to seeing the folks at Barmah experiencing things that will make them feel more alive than ever before. You are making history, folks, be sure to enjoy every single moment.

    As Robin Williams said in the movie Dead Poets Society, “suck the marrow from the bone of life” and “Carpe diem”.

  9. janama December 5, 2008 at 10:15 pm #

    Oh – so it’s biffo over common sense and diplomacy is it Ian.

    Great – so what boarding school did you go to?


  10. Ian Mott December 6, 2008 at 10:05 am #

    There is that word, “biffo” again. You guys wouldn’t be trying to attach a defamatory imputation to me, would you?

    I was merely pointing out that “best practice” planning for community protest and campaigning, as demonstrated by French and Korean farmers etc, would identify certain aspects of the landscape and circumstance that favour your own side.

    But I guess you guys would have a vested interest in supressing that sort of information, wouldn’t you?

    State school actually. Followed by a PhD in long distance travel.

  11. janama December 6, 2008 at 10:33 am #

    “The only time to negotiate with this culpable scum is with your foot on their throats.”

    that’s not biffo? ok.

  12. Ian Mott December 6, 2008 at 3:17 pm #

    It is a simple statement of opinion by a reasonable man, based on full possession of the relevant facts.

  13. Demesure December 6, 2008 at 5:49 pm #

    Holly cow, yet another example of bureaucrats’ “duty of care”.
    Do you hear the the voice of the Barmah forest crying last october : please, mister Green, don’t do me good ?

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.” —C.S. Lewis

  14. Terra December 8, 2008 at 7:10 am #

    “It is a simple statement of opinion by a reasonable man, based on full possession of the relevant facts.”

    Ian Mott is getting more and more delusional. At least Jen still loves him and accepts his deranged output. Says a lot for this blog. Let’s go and break some necks and plead ignorance then reason.

    I would be very interested to know what CS Lewis would make of the Barmah forest situation were he still alive and whether he would agree to one of his quotes being used in support of it.

  15. Ian Mott December 8, 2008 at 12:16 pm #

    Whats wrong, Terra, you don’t like seeing tactics the greens have been using for years being used by ordinary folks against a negligent government department that has trashed all semblance of governing for anyone but the green cult? Well tough tits, fella.

    And now he wants to censor the use of quotes and decide who can post on a public blog.

    Best get back under that rock, matey, the slime mould must be getting lonely, again.

  16. Terra December 10, 2008 at 5:33 am #

    Poor Ian Mott. I would hardly call you ordinary. Most ordinary folk I know don’t threaten violence on others. No one here threatens violence like you do. You have a problem (numerous in reality).

    What a buffoon. Tells me I am trying to censor and decide who posts here (based on nothing at all) then tells me to get under a rock. Ian, the slime mold have way more intelligence than some hasbeen yobbo like you. You should try learning a few things from them-like how to get on with your own kind.

  17. Ian Mott December 10, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    Who threatened violence, Terra? The “foot on the throat” line is a common metaphor, not an inducement to violence.

    Playing “cross country rugby”, or “cross country AFL” in the middle of a DSE cattle round up is nothing but a nostalgic return to the rustic roots of all our contact sports. It is unlikely to involve undue violence unless the DSE goons try to take the ball away. In which case they would be seen to join in the game and become, “fair game” as it were.

    And if some of the spectators got excited and cheered loudly for their team then they can hardly be blamed if the cattle that DSE have herded into the same area get spooked and bolt in all directions. It is just a normal part of the “games they play in heaven”.

    Sport makes such riveting viewing, don’t you think? I bet it would make a really popular program on Youtube. The combination of opposing teams with natural backdrop and the random twists and turns of a third team, the cattle, would be a real “barbeque buster”.

    You see, Terra, I really am a social animal. I get on very well with my “own kind”. But lying, incompetent green scumbags with substance abuse issues have never been my “own kind”. I’m just a former Rugby front rower who never did acquire a side-step. Who always seeks the shortest distance between two points, even if that means going through, or over, someone else’s ribs.

    And we are a friendly, welcoming bunch, even to folks like you, if you would just stop lying all the time.

  18. Terra December 10, 2008 at 10:21 am #

    “I get on very well with my “own kind”. But lying, incompetent green scumbags with substance abuse issues have never been my “own kind”.”

    Oh how tiresome. If only you became as sick of the sound of your own rants as some others here appear to be. Pigeon-holing folk is the ilk of the non-imaginative, intolerant caveman. Oh, that’ you!

    “And we are a friendly, welcoming bunch, even to folks like you, if you would just stop lying all the time.”

    Oh I see I do need your permission to post here after all. What was that hypocritical comment …”And now he wants to censor the use of quotes and decide who can post on a public blog.” Lying? You seem to be confusing me with yourself. Perhaps its the brain damage from being in the front row, or just plain bad genes. How very sad.

  19. Ian Mott December 10, 2008 at 9:06 pm #

    Gosh, Terra, you almost managed to divert attention from DSE’s grossly negligent failure to manage the fuel loads in the Barmah Forest. But no-one was fooled.

    Another very useful ecological service provided by the cattle as they reduce the fuel loads is they will also increase the water yield from that catchment. Runoff is a direct function of leaf area index and if there is one thing cattle like doing is reduce leaf area. The difference in runoff between an ungrazed pasture and a grazed pasture is quite significant.

    Yet, at the very time when the DSE and their green cultmeisters are complaining about reduced inflows into the Murray Darling Basin, the hypocritical morons are excluding cattle from large sections of the catchment in a way that seriously exacerbates the reduced inflows.

    It would be laughable if it were not so terribly ignorant and boorish.

    The folks from Barmah are doing the ecology of the Murray a major service by re-introducing grazing animals. So even their protests actions end up being more beneficial than the supposed “good works” of the DSE Scumnoscenti. But whats new? Everything they touch turns to $hite.

  20. Tom Melville December 12, 2008 at 10:26 am #

    Whats the matter, Terra? Has a feral cat got your tongue?

  21. Terra December 12, 2008 at 10:35 am #

    Nope Tom. I am bored with the useless discussion here by equally useless cavemen. Pity a feral cat hasn’t given some of you toxo. Oops, maybe it has!!!

  22. Terra December 13, 2008 at 5:49 am #

    Oh dear Ian Mott. A quick check through the archives shows you really are a sad individual. Don’t get too mixed up with your shifting personalities here or you may be in a real pickle. When you are being questioned, pull out Tom Melville! What a sorry fool you really are!

  23. june December 15, 2008 at 10:30 am #

    I live in Barmah, and believe me the risk of fire is real. We got no where with D.S.E. or Parks or any other agency we went with so the cattle were our only option, and they will stay there until the fire risk is reduced!

  24. Sam January 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    I dont have a problem I just want the grazers to pay for the access to pristine environments, maybe a cost at 500% of what normal farmers pay per head, the funds could be used to do weed removal or water monitoring of billabongs and rubbish removal after they have their piss up, Im also sick of them playing the victims all the time, we all wish we could make a million dollars a year or get government handouts, the poor poor guys


  1. Jennifer Marohasy » Still Cattle in the Barmah Forest (Part 2) - December 19, 2008

    […] ON December 1, the first day of summer here in Australia, residents of the little town of Barmah in northwestern Victoria, drove cattle into their forest in defiance of a government ban.  The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) has threatened legal action, but so far the cattle are still there.  The forest has historically been grazed and the Barmah locals believe this is important to reduce the fire risk. […]

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