Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s Forest and Wildlife Officers on Tuesday 30 April successfully executed a number of search warrants. The warrants apply to a group of Smythesdale men accused of the unlawful removal of forest produce under Section 96 of the Forest Act 1958, and Section 45 of the Sustainable Forest (Timber) Act 2004.
Five vehicles, ten chainsaws and associated firewood collection tools and machinery were seized along with 14 cubic metres of processed firewood.
Grampians Regional Manager Environmental Compliance, Grant Allan said: “The offences relate to the unlawful felling of trees and removal of forest produce from Enfield State forest (south of Ballarat) and potentially other locations for the subsequent commercial sale of domestic firewood.
“This group has been engaging in these activities over a prolonged period of time and on an unprecedented scale,” Mr Allan said.
“Working closely with Victoria Police, we have pursued the group for many months. It is gratifying that we’ve obtained the evidence required to take these matters to court.
“Potential fines of up to $8059 and/or a maximum penalty of one-year imprisonment exist for each offence. Apart from cutting and removing timber unlawfully, the men were using and damaging the natural resources and values set aside for the benefit of all Victorians, for their own personal gain.
“Theft of firewood from public lands has a significant impact on the environment, which leads to loss of habitat for native fauna that rely on hollows in mature trees for nesting and roosting sites. It also reduces the opportunities for people who undertake these activities legally.
“This investigation is an outcome of State Government’s $36.6 million ‘protecting our forest and wildlife’ initiative that has enabled the establishment of the Office of the Conservation Regulator (OCR) and doubling of DELWP’s capacity to identify, investigate and prosecute serious environmental crimes such as this one.
“Through OCR, the lessons from this and other regulatory actions will be used to enhance DELWP’s regulatory performance to better protect environmental, heritage and other values, and to promote sustainable and equitable use of these where appropriate.
“Our authorised officers will continue patrolling parks, forests and reserves to ensure people are doing the right thing while collecting their firewood. We will continue to investigate reports of suspected illegal firewood collection.
“When purchasing firewood, you should ensure that you are dealing with a licensed commercial firewood operator.
“While the firewood collection season remains open until 30 June, please follow the collection rules (which can be found at https://www.ffm.vic.gov.au/firewood/firewood-collection-in-your-region). Serious penalties apply if you break the law. For any more information on firewood collection or to report illegal or suspicious behaviour in public land areas, please contact DELWP on 136 186.”