Our third year of operation has seen us capitalise on the work of previous years to embed our priorities, and focus on where the greatest harms may lie. We have increasingly focused our efforts on proactive activities, while still ensuring that reports of crime are promptly assessed, and where appropriate, investigated.
The Conservation Regulator has led a total of 1,952 proactive patrols across public land since April 2020 through Operation Guardian to protect natural resources and ensure compliance.
As COVID-19 restrictions eased and the weather changed, we expected to see Victorian’s taking up the opportunity to explore Victoria’s great outdoors.
The focus of Operation Guardian was to gather intelligence around the movement of people across public land and ensure education about and compliance with natural resource laws. The Conservation Regulator conducted patrols targeting operational priorities such as campfires, off-road vehicle use, firewood, and wildlife. A coordinated approach with partner agencies enabled patrol coverage of known hotspots as well as targeted operations to ensure organised events were conducted lawfully with the best environmental outcomes possible.
Over the 2021-22 period, 809 patrols were conducted in a variety of environments, to maintain public awareness of our presence as a deterrent of non-compliance, but also to target hotspots of illegal activity. We engaged with more than 71,330 people, through 5,990 patrol reports, supporting community education and engagement about the role of the Conservation Regulator and compliance with the law.
Over the course of the year, our Authorised Officers partnered with Forest, Fire and Operations Division staff and Parks Victoria Officers who all play roles in protecting and monitoring public land. Our Officers also maintained agility in their readiness and response commitments during fire and wildlife emergencies, festivals and hunting seasons.
The successes of Operation Guardian are being assessed, and all lessons learned will be adapted into future compliance patrol activities.
We published a number of documents throughout the year which explain where we will focus our effort, along with guidance to community and industry about how to support compliance. These publications are critical in supporting our regulatory work, as a key responsibility we have is to inform stakeholders, and provide support and guidance, to prevent harm from occurring in the first place.
In 2021-22 we published:
Upgrades to our systems and processes
We are continuously looking for ways to improve our systems, processes and tools, enabling us to adapt and respond quickly to challenges. In 2021-22 we introduced online applications and forms for the following:
- Submissions of Forest Reports, for allegations of non-compliant timber harvesting and detections of threatened species reports
- Authority to Control Wildlife applications
- Pre-application checklist for research permits to help applicants determine what permits and agreements they required
- Import and Export Permit applications and notification of outcomes for permits
- Wildlife Licence Annual returns
- Private Wildlife Licence applications.
Since introducing these upgrades, more than half of new regulatory permission applications are being submitted online and 84% of Annual Returns were submitted digitally. We are now observing reductions in processing times.
Continued focus on transparency
Being transparent about what activities we are undertaking, the decisions we make and the outcomes of our actions is really important as we continue to build the community’s trust in our work as the Regulator. In 2021-22, we continued our focus on increasing transparency.
We provide open access to data utilised by timber harvesting programs via the Forest Information Portal. This interactive website allows anyone to view forest-related data such as vegetation types, boundaries and recreation locations as well as information from our Forest Protection Survey Program, compliance reports, threatened species reports and Coupe Inspection Program. Outcomes of our Forest Audit Program are also published online.
We have continued to consult with community members and businesses using EngageVic, the Victorian Government’s online platform, to seek feedback on draft tools, strategies and guidance, including in the development of both the Statement of Regulatory Intent for Wildlife and the Guidance for reporting detections of Greater Gliders. After each consultation process, we publish engagement reports to tell you what we heard and how we have responded to your feedback.
Working together to achieve outcomes
We achieve our best work when we collaborate with you.
The Conservation Regulator has a broad role in regulation, and there are myriad opportunities to work with our partners and stakeholders to achieve the best outcomes for our environment and community.
Our relationships with our co-regulators are key. By working with agencies such as Parks Victoria, the Game Management Authority and Victoria Police, we can provide strong compliance outcomes through joint patrols, investigations, operations and educational activities.
We are reliant on members of the community to tell us about potential breaches of the law, provide information that assists our investigations, and to contribute to our work through public consultation which we undertake when developing our guidance and strategies.
We have sought input from our stakeholders via EngageVic consultation, through our Stakeholder Reference Group, and forums including our inaugural Recreational Users Forum in June 2022 which sought to identify opportunities for user groups and the Conservation Regulator to work better together to protect our environment.
We are always looking for new and innovative ways to engage with different communities and ensure all Victorians understand what you can and can’t do on public land and with native wildlife. In 2021, we partnered with the Migrant Information Centre to deliver four information sessions on hunting and wildlife to members of the Myanmar community who frequently enjoy using state forests, parks and public land for activities like camping and hunting.
Officers explained how to correctly construct and extinguish campfires, how to correctly dispose of rubbish on public land, the laws around vehicle use on public land and key rules relating to wildlife. Game Management Authority and Victoria Police members also presented at these sessions.
Engaging with recreational forest users
The Conservation Regulator is making it a priority to get out and engage with recreational forest users. Recreational users and peak bodies came together for the Conservation Regulator’s first forum for recreational users of state forests in Victoria. The forum provided opportunities for these groups to learn more about the Regulator’s role and for us as the Regulator to better understand how state forests are being used.
As leaders within their communities and networks, outdoor user groups are uniquely placed to educate the community, and we have shared interests in maintaining the balance of keeping forests open, healthy and safe.
Community engagement opportunities, like this forum, are great opportunities for us to meet with our stakeholders, and better understand their needs, and we are looking forward to continuing to engage with the community in 2022-23.