People stealing firewood from native forest reserves and conservation parks in the South-East will be targeted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service this autumn after an increase in illegal firewood removal.
The launch of Operation Red Gum aims to protect the regions flora and fauna, which includes endangered species.
Red gums are the most targeted species because they burn slowly but at high temperatures, with more than 100 logged illegally in just one reserve.
About 50 people have been caught on surveillance cameras or red handed by rangers in the past five years, resulting in fines of up to $750 for offences including illegal removal of wood and possession/illegal use of a chainsaw in a reserve.
Trees aged 100 years plus were being cut down, sometimes on a commercial scale - for sale through back yard markets, with devastating long term results for the regions native flora and fauna.
National Parks and Wildlife Service Lower Limestone Coast Senior Ranger Kieran Gosden said Operation Red Gum would result in increased patrols and targeted camera surveillance in regional parks and reserves.
"With much of the landscape already cleared, it’s vitally important to maintain areas of native vegetation in our reserves for future generations," he said.
"Rangers will be out in force with a zero tolerance approach. If you’re caught, you will be penalised, and you may have your vehicle and equipment seized."
Limestone Coast police are also targeting timber theft in a special operation running until October. In March, officers arrested two Mount Gambier men aged 47 and 52 for being unlawfully on premises and in possession of a trailer of red gum.
Anyone with information regarding illegal firewood theft is urged to contact SAPOL on 131 444, National Parks on 8735 1177 or report anonymously to Crime Stoppers on 1300 333 000.