Plea after theft and damage leaves park suffering

Chris Mercier said firewood theft is dangerous and takes away vital habitat from the forest. Picture: TANYA STEELE

By Tanya Steele

Destruction of the vital native environment in Gembrook’s Bunyip State Park following increased alleged acts of vandalism has prompted a plea from authorities for campers to act responsibly.

Firewood theft, vandalism and off trail driving have been causing damage to pockets of the beautiful park which is home to many native flora and fauna.

Manager of enforcement operations from Parks Victoria, Chris Mercier said that the forest trees provide valuable spaces for fauna and flora in the natural environment and that they are a habitat for various species.

“The trees are a home – whether standing or on the ground,” he said.

People allegedly stealing the firewood are often going into the forest after dark to cut down trees and Mr Mercier said this also increases the risk of injury to themselves.

“They’re taking a risk and it’s very dangerous,” he said.

People are impacting or destroying local wildlife with the activities and Mr Mercier said it isn’t just about the trees being taken.

“Disturbances can often disturb local fauna and they’ll move on into a territory that’s not theirs and generally will not survive,” he said.

“The radius around a fallen tree will have quite significant undergrowth damage as well,” he said.

Mr Mercier said he encourages the public to source their firewood from legal operators.

“If you want firewood, you can go to a commercial firewood operator – or you can get onto the DEECA website and find out where the firewood areas are,” he said.

Trees being cut down means vital habitat for animals is being removed from the forest areas.

“Our wildlife don’t have anywhere to go,” he said.

People have also been going off track and driving into off-closed-off areas – causing significant damage.

Healesville Environmental Watch Inc (HEWI) President Karen Garth said that roadside areas can contain vital habitat for many plant species, particularly orchids.

“Many plants and things like native orchids like an open environment – they need that light, so it’s common for them to be on roadsides,” she said.

Anyone driving off the side of a trail can damage the quality of the landscape and Ms Garth said they can potentially destroy plant colonies.

Bunyip State Park provides many places for four-wheel drive and trail bikers to ride through the forest, there is no reason to go off road.

The state park provides a space purely for people to visit and Mr Mercier said following park rules and leaving the natural landscape untouched is vital for the future of the forests.

“When you look at these national parks, on a landscape scale – we’re really like little islands in a sea of agriculture or cities and this is all we got left,” he said.

People visiting their local parks can also help by leaving fallen wood and logs where they lie and using a lightweight stove for cooking, instead of a campfire.

“This is all we’ve got – and it’s in trouble,” Mr Mercier said.

Parks Victoria encourages people to report any witness to illegal wood theft in protected areas on 13 1963

For more information on firewood collection head to these websites: