AN early onset of winter, and people falling on hard times due to the coronavirus has seen thousands of tonnes of firewood removed illegally from Victoria's parks, forests and reserves.
Which is why the Conservation Regulator has joined up with Parks Victoria in a statewide operation targeting illegal firewood collections across the state.
Operation Hollows will seek to uncover unlawful removal of commercial quantities of firewood from public land, and suppliers of illegal firewood.
READ MORE: Fire wood theft climbs in regional Victoria
Authorised officers will patrols forests, parks and reserves and use cameras to detect offenders all across he state in the unprecedented blitz.
It comes as the Ballarat region has seen a spike in firewood theft in recent months.
In February, a Smythesdale man who repeatedly stole firewood from a state forest was forced to forfeit vehicles and chainsaws and was fined more than $10,000.
In January, the man's brother was sentenced to a nine month community corrections order with 150 unpaid community work hours, was given a $500 fine and the forfeiture or two vehicles and chainsaws for illegally removing and selling firewood from the Ross Creek State Forest.
Chief Conservation Regulator Kate Gavens said officers would patrol both at day and at night as many thefts were understood to occur under dark.
"We're targeting the illegal removal of commercial qualities of firewood, given the negative impacts it has on the health of our forests, wildlife habitat and the sustainability of firewood resources for the community," Ms Gavens said.
Ms Gavens said habitat loss had a big impact on native species including the Powerful Owl, South-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Greater Glider, Pygmy Possum and many others.
"Following the devastating losses of wildlife in Victoria's recent bushfires, it's even more important that we protect wildlife habitat from illegal firewood operators," she said.
The 2020 autumn firewood collection season for started across Victoria on March 1. Commercial firewood suppliers need to have the appropriate licences and permits to collect and sell firewood obtained in Victoria. Anyone caught illegally removing firewood can face a fine of up to $8261, and vehicles and equipment may also be seized.
Domestic firewood collection is allowed in designated collection areas during a firewood collection season, and people may collect up to two cubic metres per day and 16 cubic metres per financial year.
Parks Victoria director of fire, emergency and enforcement David Nugent said limits meant everyone had a fair access to firewood, but also protected wildlife.
"We're encouraging anyone who buys firewood to question where it is being sourced from, and to report the suspected illegal collection or selling of firewood," he said. If you wish to report suspicious behaviour, contact the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning on 136 186. Further firewood collection rules are at ffm.vic.gov.au
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