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The sad reality of illegal firewood collection in Victoria

The Conservation Regulator is urging people to help save critical wildlife habitat and protect Aboriginal scarred trees by sourcing firewood responsibly this winter.

Monday, 6 March 2023 at 3:18 am
Trailer of cut firewood
Trailer of cut firewood

As many Victorians stock up their firewood supplies for winter, the Conservation Regulator is urging people to help save critical wildlife habitat and protect Aboriginal scarred trees by sourcing firewood responsibly.

Illegal firewood collectors have caused significant damage to parks, forests and reserves in recent years, with some areas like the Mansfield Swamp Wildlife Reserve in Northern Victoria losing an estimated 50 per cent of its old mature trees through timber theft.

Birds and reptiles as well as a range of native mammals, such as possums, gliders and bats, rely on hollows in both standing and fallen trees for habitat. The illegal collection of firewood, if made up of mature trees and limbs, also has potential to harm Aboriginal scarred trees. Once gone, an important piece of Aboriginal cultural heritage is lost forever.

Domestic firewood collection from public land is only available in designated areas during the autumn and spring firewood collection seasons. During these times people can collect a maximum of two cubic metres of firewood per person per day and a maximum of 16 cubic metres of firewood per household per financial year. Only fallen timber without hollows can be collected.

This year the Conservation Regulator is targeting firewood theft with Forest Fire Management Victoria and Parks Victoria through Operation Hollows. Authorised Officers are educating the public about the rules and penalising thieves. Anyone caught breaking firewood collection rules can face on-the-spot-fines of $740 under the Forests Act 1958 or a maximum penalty of $9,246 and/or 1 year jail if the matter is taken to court.

Last year the Conservation Regulator laid 625 charges and issued 85 infringement notices and 16 official warnings for firewood offences, including cutting or taking fallen or felled trees, and disturbing, damaging or destroying wildlife habitat. Cases which resolved in the Magistrate Court system faced convictions, fines and had chainsaws and trailers forfeited and destroyed.

It is also important firewood collectors understand their obligations under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. All Aboriginal places, objects and Ancestral remains are protected in Victoria. It is an offence to harm Aboriginal heritage and substantial penalties apply.

If you think you have found a scarred tree or other Aboriginal cultural heritage, contact your relevant Registered Aboriginal Party (if one has been appointed) or First Peoples – State Relations on 1800 762 003.

For details of where firewood can be collected, visit Forest Fire Management Victoria's webpage on firewood collection in your region.

More information about firewood collection rules can be found on the firewood regulation page.

The community can report the illegal cutting or removal of firewood anonymously by calling 136 186.

Information on financial assistance available for people on low incomes who buy firewood for heating can be found on the energy concession and support page.

We can all do our part in protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage, wildlife habitat and biodiversity by knowing where, when and what firewood can be collected. It can take hundreds of years for nature to create tree hollows and habitat loss from illegal firewood collection has a serious impact on the future of our iconic native species.

Conservation Regulator Victoria