It's the time of year when firewood is in high demand and Conservation Regulator Victoria has seen an increase in residents illegally collecting firewood from public land in the Ballarat area as well as Western Victoria.
"Unfortunately not everyone has been following the rules," said Brian Hamer, Manager Regulatory Operations in the Grampians region.
Mr Hamer is particularly concerned about the increase of illegal firewood collection after a 300 year old tree was cut down in the Woohlpooer State Forest, near the Grampians, last weekend.
Collecting firewood was one of the approved reasons to leave the house during the recent lockdown in regional Victoria, as long as it was within the 5km radius.
Conservation Regulator Authorised Officers, Forest Fire Management Victoria crews and Parks Victoria rangers are banding together to continue last year's Operation Hollows, which aims to crack down on illegal firewood collectors and minimise the impact on local wildlife.
Unfortunately not everyone has been following the rules.Brian Hamer, Manager Regulatory Operations in the Grampians region
The ongoing operation is also targeting people selling large quantities of illegal firewood.
A Smythesdale man was last year charged more than $10,400 and had three vehicles and a chainsaw taken off him after being caught illegally chopping down trees for firewood on six occasions.
"It's important to remember that cutting trees for firewood is habitat destruction. Anyone illegally taking firewood is taking a home away from one of our threatened native wildlife species. Do the right thing: source your firewood legally and help our native species survive," said Ron Waters, Parks Victoria Senior Manager in Enforcement and Regulatory Services.
Trees and fallen wood are crucial habitats for native wildlife like the Powerful Owl, Greater Glider, Fat-tailed Dunnart, Spotted-tailed Quoll, and small geckos, skinks and lizards.
From March to November last year, 183 people were fined a total of $98,801 in Victoria for illegally collecting firewood.
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Offenders can face a maximum penalty of $8,261, as well as seizure of their vehicles and chainsaws and one year in prison.
People in the Ballarat area can collect firewood from five approved locations in Beaufort, one in Creswick and four in Daylesford.
"Many people have expressed their concerns about people collecting firewood illegally out of the Wombat State Forest which is of major concern for our threatened native wildlife species which includes the Powerful Owl and gliders," said a volunteer Wildlife Rescuer from the Hepburn Shire.
The volunteer also said that since last year's bushfires, he has seen local wildlife struggling to find safe places to live. Illegal firewood collectors are reducing these safe spots even further by destroying the trees used as habitat.
If you wish to report suspicious or illegal firewood activity, contact the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning on 136 186. Further firewood collection rules and approved sites are at ffm.vic.gov.au
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