Illegal firewood theft confirmed

On the rise: Illegal firewood in Gippsland state forests has grown at an alarming rate. Photograph supplied



REPORTS about the illegal theft of firewood from Gippsland’s state forests have been confirmed by local country music identity Mick Harrington, who is an advocate for the forest industry.

Mr Harrington, executive officer with Forest and Wood Communities Australia, said he had witnessed “obvious” illegal harvesting after recently taking a drive on the backroads between Stratford and Bairnsdale.

“Within around 30 minutes, I witnessed a vast quantity of Forest Red Gum and Red Box trees cut down for firewood. Not only is this affecting the rare ecology of this remnant vegetation, some of the tree harvesting was within five metres of the Princes Highway, an obvious safety issue,” he said.

“Anecdotally, this is just a drop in the ocean, with Facebook Marketplace flooded with illegally harvested firewood from roadsides, parks and reserves that are host to rare and threatened vegetation communities including, the Barmah-Millewa forest – the world’s largest River Red Gum forest, as well as the Moormung Flora and Fauna Reserve in the state’s east – home to the nationally endangered (EPBC-listed) Gippsland Red Gum Grassy Woodland.”

Mr Harrington said simply putting an end to sustainable native timber harvesting in common vegetation types throughout Victoria had resulted in a shockwave of illegal harvesting in “our most at risk vegetation types throughout Victoria that society has a duty to protect”.

“Decisions made in isolation by academics, activists and politicians without considering the broader context are always doomed to have perverse and unintended consequences and this the perfect illustration of exactly that,” he said.

Timberbiz reported that illegal firewood collection had taken hold in some of Victoria’s most valued and rare ecological gems since the announcement to close the native forest industry.

In remote areas and rural towns, particularly in low socio-economic situations, firewood was often the sole source of heating and was particularly important for communities where power supply was at the mercy of natural disasters.

Firewood suppliers, including East Gippsland commercial firewood operator Malcolm Beveridge, fear for the future.

“We’re just not going to be able to produce enough affordable firewood for our town and family – we’re still doing it at the moment as we have a small amount of logs left, but come next winter the community will have no firewood,” he told Timberbiz.

Timberbiz said the reduction of firewood supply after VicForests stopped harvesting operations had pushed up firewood costs statewide, making clearly visible illegal firewood harvesting operations, with the impacts on environments, increasingly visible.

Mr Harrington said past timber sector operations had harvested just five in 10,000 trees state-wide annually from non-endangered forest types, which was then regenerated according to strict protocols.

“This firewood now has to be sourced elsewhere, with illegal firewood harvesting booming in rare vegetation communities Victoria-wide,” he said.

Timberbiz said state government agencies, including Victoria Police, the Conservation Regulator, Parks Victoria and Forest Fire Management Victoria, had made headlines recently prosecuting people for illegally harvesting firewood within parks and reserves from all over the state.

The state’s chief conservation regulator, Kate Gavens, was disturbed by the illegal harvesting that was commonplace.

“We are seeing quite significant amounts of illegal take of firewood and cutting down trees in state forest and in national parks across the state,” she said.