The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) plans to target people stealing firewood from native forest reserves and conservation parks in the South-East following an increase in illegal removals.
According to the Service the launch of the Operation Red Gum project is aimed at protecting the region’s flora and fauna, which includes endangered species.
NPWS said Red gums were the most targeted species because they burnt slowly but at high temperatures, with more than a hundred logged illegally in a single reserve.
It said that about 50 people had been caught on surveillance cameras or red-handed by rangers in the past five years, resulting in fines of up to $750 for offences including illegal removal of wood and possession or unlawful use of a chainsaw in the reserve.
Senior Ranger at NPWS Lower Limestone Coast, Kieran Gosden said Operation Red Gum would increase patrols and target camera surveillances in regional parks and reserves.
“Trees aged 100 years plus were being cut down, sometimes commercially – for sale through backyard markets, with devastating long-term results for the region’s native flora and fauna,” Senior Ranger Gosden said.
“With much of the landscape already cleared, it’s vitally important to maintain areas of native vegetation in our reserves for future generations,” he said.
“Rangers will be out in force with a zero-tolerance approach. If you’re caught, you will be penalised, and you may have your vehicle and equipment seized.”
He said Limestone Coast police could also be targeting timber theft in the special operation running until October.
Senior Ranger Gosden said that in March, officers arrested two Mount Gambier men aged 47 and 52 for being unlawfully on the premises and possessing a trailer of red gum.
SAPOL police has urged anyone with information regarding illegal firewood to contact SA Police, National Parks or report anonymously to Crime Stoppers.