AUTHORITIES are cracking down on people illegally taking firewood for sale from public land in western Victoria.
A Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) spokeswoman said there had been a successful prosecution for the offence at Hamilton last year and another similar case was expected to be heard at Hamilton later this year.
Numerous reports of people taking firewood from state forests and parks for sale prompted the state government to this week launch Operation Trident to crack down on the practice.
DEPI warned it will prosecute anyone found to have taken firewood for sale and has called on the public to help track down offenders.
DEPI senior forests investigator Greg Chant said regional authorised officers would investigate the legality of commercial firewood suppliers across Victoria as part of Operation Trident.
“We know that firewood is being illegally removed from public land and sold,” Mr Chant said.
“This has been an issue for many years.
“This activity is making a profit from taking firewood that should be available free of charge to the community during the domestic firewood season.”
He said if people knew of anyone who was buying or selling firewood illegally taken from public land they could pass on that information anonymously by calling DEPI on 136 186.
“The illegal sale of firewood is viewed as a serious offence which attracts penalties of up to $7218 or one year imprisonment or both,” Mr Chant said.
Collection of firewood for domestic use from designated state forests and parks is permitted from March 1 to June 30 and September 1 to November 30.
The Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) said the state government’s decision to launch Operation Trident was an “embarrassing admission” of policy failure.
It said the government’s decision in 2011 to scrap the permit system for firewood collection from state forests and other public land was having a negative environmental impact on many state forests and said the policy needed to be reinstated.
VNPA spokesman Nick Roberts said firewood collection had a known effect on 19 species of native birds and research showed bird numbers in forests in central Victoria were up to nine times greater in areas containing fallen timber.
Mr Roberts said the state government acted against advice from experts, conservation groups and its own department when it scrapped the permit system — the only mechanism available to monitor and regulate firewood collection from public land.