Media Release – Tuesday 7 April 2020

WOOD CUTTERS WARNED THE FOREST IS WATCHING

People illegally cutting down protected redgum and stringybark trees from Green Triangle plantations are being warned the ‘forest is watching’.

Police and forest landowners have joined forces in an effort to target reckless wood thieves who are fearlessly entering privately owned forestry estates and taking hundreds of tonnes of native vegetation critical for the long-term survival of endangered local species.

The hollow red gum and stringybark trees, which are protected under state laws, are conserved across the Green Triangle’s 355,000 hectares of soft and hardwood plantations by forest owners. The century old tree hollows are vital nesting sites for a range of species, particularly the south eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo whose population sits precariously between 1000 to 1500. It is reliant on these desert stringybark woodlands as a feeding ground.

However, daring wood cutters are illegally entering the private forest at all hours of the day and night removing hundreds of tonnes of wood which is being on-sold to unsuspecting customers.

Wood has been carelessly cut directly over access tracks.

The alarming behaviour extends to the theft of vital firefighting equipment, including large poly tanks, illegal shooting of wildlife, dumping of rubbish and creation of extensive motorbike tracks.

New Forests, Timberlands and Australian Bluegum Plantations (ABP) have installed a network of expensive cameras, including some with night vision, across their estates to curb the daring visitors who rip down padlocked gates to gain access.

ABP supervisor Jack Cater said “engaging security services” was a further measure being considered by the sector to protect estates.

“Sadly, these people think that these privately owned forests are open for their use and destruction. This isn’t a recreation reserve, a farm or open paddock; this is private property and critical habitat for a number of species,” he warned.

“We have instances on camera of people driving in with an empty ute and trailer only to emerge a few hours later with both loads full of the wood, which would be valued at hundreds of dollars if it was to be on-sold.

“I don’t think people realise exactly how much damage they are causing. They may think it’s just a dead tree, but the reality is that large hollow trees can take hundreds of years to form and as a result are disappearing from the landscape faster than can be replaced.”

Camera footage was invaluable in a south-west man being arrested and his home raided last month after removing four large native gum trees from an ABP plantation near Branxholme.

Earlier instances have included arrests in the Limestone Coast with people sourcing tonnes of native wood from local forests, and profiteering on social media channels.

SFM Asset Management regional forester Noel Bull said he was staggered by the elaborate planning to retrieve and find firewood.

He said at the weekend its in-forest cameras send information direct to his smart phone to catch cutters in the act. As a result, the wood was confiscated and donated to people in need.

“I am amazed at the extent these people will go to remove wood – installing flood lights and using big heavy equipment to retrieve as much as they can. The size of some of these trees is enormous but these individuals will walk away with every last wood chip to make an easy profit,” he said.

“Every forest is being targeted. From Branxholme to Casterton, Penola to Lucindale – there is not a parcel of forest that these culprits have not hit and the sector is saying ‘enough is enough’, the theft and damage needs to end.”

Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub executive general manager Liz McKinnon urged the community to act as “additional eyes” to support the industry, reporting any illegal activities in forested areas directly to police.

“Our forest owners work tirelessly to ensure the health of these forests but this ongoing illegal behaviour is taking its toll and the industry is fed-up,” she said.

“It’s unthinkable to drive into a farmers paddock and harvest their redgum trees but these thoughtless thieves believe they have the right to rip down gates and take what they desire from these private properties.

“Stopping these illegal activities is going to take a whole of community effort. Foresters need the help of neighbouring property owners and the general public to urgently report illegal activity in plantations to ensure perpetrators are stopped in their tracks for good.”

SFM Asset Management’s general manager Mike Lawson is using the latest technology in an effort to stop theft from Green Triangle plantations.