A GROUP of Smythesdale men have been charged after a combined Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and police operation into removal of forest timber.
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Five vehicles, 10 chainsaws and associated firewood collection tools and machinery were seized along with 14 cubic metres of processed firewood after a protracted investigation.
The men have been charged under Section 96 of the Forest Act 1958, and Section 45 of the Sustainable Forest (Timber) Act 2004.
Grampians Regional Manager Environmental Compliance, Grant Allan said the charges relate to the alleged unlawful felling of trees and removal of forest produce from Enfield State forest south of Ballarat - and potentially other locations - for the commercial sale of domestic firewood.
"This group has been allegedly engaging in these activities over a prolonged period of time and on an unprecedented scale," Mr Allan said.
"Working closely with Victoria Police, we have pursued the group for many months. It is gratifying that we've obtained the evidence required to take these matters to court."
Potential fines of up to $8059 and/or a penalty of up to one year in jail exist for each offence.
"Apart from cutting and removing timber unlawfully, the men were allegedly using and damaging the natural resources and values set aside for the benefit of all Victorians, for their own personal gain," Mr Allan said.
"Theft of firewood from public lands has a significant impact on the environment, which leads to loss of habitat for native fauna that rely on hollows in mature trees for nesting and roosting sites. It also reduces the opportunities for people who undertake these activities legally.
"Our authorised officers will continue patrolling parks, forests and reserves to ensure people are doing the right thing while collecting their firewood. We will continue to investigate reports of suspected illegal firewood collection.
"When purchasing firewood, you should ensure that you are dealing with a licensed commercial firewood operator."
If you have concerns about firewood collection, information can be found at ffm.vic.gov.au/firewood/firewood-collection-in-your-region. To report suspected illegal activity, phone DELP on 136 186.
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