A Milltown hobby farmer has been ordered to pay nearly $60,000 after he cut down dozens of eucalyptus trees, some of which were more than 40 years old.
Dean Zordan pleaded guilty in Portland Magistrates Court on Tuesday to 31 charges, including 29 counts of cutting forest produce without a licence.
He was convicted and fined $20,000.
He was also ordered to pay nearly $40,000 in restitution to DELWP for the transportation of trees and other charges.
Zoran told the court the sentence would send him broke.
"I'll lose the farm, the whole lot," he said.
But magistrate Franz Holzer said the man should have considered the consequences before conducting five weeks of "carnage".
The court heard Zordan owned a hobby sheep farm which backs onto the Annya State Forest near the Henty Highway at Milltown.
On July 8 last year, a Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) authorised officer attended the forest and observed about 300 cubic metres of cleared vegetation.
The clearance included 56 trees, of which 30 were large mature eucalyptus estimated to be over 40 years old.
The court heard Zordan had removed the trees without a licence over a five-week period.
The trees, along with the vegetation layer removed throughout the clearing, formed habitat required for several threatened and protected species, including the Powerful Owl.
Soil disturbances created from the vegetation works would also see foreign weed seed take hold in the area, with oil stabilisation works potentially necessary to mitigate soil erosion, the court heard.
The trees were seized and transported to a DELWP storage facility.
On Tuesday Zordan told the court he cleared the trees to erect a boundary fence to stop his sheep getting out into the bush and onto the nearby highway.
He said he attended the DELWP office in Heywood but it was closed due to COVID-19.
He said he was "really worried" about his sheep so went ahead with the clearance anyway.
"I had no idea I was doing anything wrong," Zordan said.
But the magistrate said the offender "surely had an inkling or awareness that this was wrong".
"This is the significant destruction of mature trees that take years and years to grow," Mr Holzer said.
"It's an enormous amount of displacement of natural resources. It is disappointing in the extreme."
The magistrate said the state forest was for the preservation of the future and not just Zordan's benefit.
He said the man's offending was selfish and shameful.
"Taking from a state forest, or any other protected area, is something that requires strong condemnation," Mr Holzer said.
"They are a natural resource for everyone - for our generation and the ones that follow us. These things aren't fixed overnight, it just doesn't work that way."
Barwon South West forest and wildlife officer Simon Donald said mature eucalypt trees serve as important habitat.
"This illegal clearing has damaged the natural ecosystem our native wildlife depends on," he said.
Chief Conservation Regulator Kate Gavens said the regulator took the clearing of native vegetation "very seriously".
"This result should serve as a warning that penalties apply to anyone who chooses to take from state forests," she said.
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