Illegally 'pulled' valuable wood seized

Sam TomlinCountryman

The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) is expected to lay a string of charges after one of the biggest seizures of illegally harvested sandalwood.

More than 40 tonnes of the valuable wood were seized by DEC officials in separate raids in Kalgoorlie-Boulder and Menzies on August 17 and 18.

At market value, the haul could have sold for up to $600,000.

DEC senior investigator Rick Dawson said illegal harvesting, or "pulling", was on the rise in the Goldfields due to the dramatically increased value of sandalwood.

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"Sandalwood can command up to $15,000 a tonne and this has resulted in an upsurge of illegal activity by people who want to cash in on this very lucrative market, " he said.

"Since March 2011, DEC, with the assistance of WA Police, has seized 17 consignments of illegally harvested sandalwood weighing in excess of 70t and valued at about $1 million, with one person charged and several investigations ongoing."

Chiefly growing in the rangelands of the eastern and northern Goldfields, the wood is highly valued for its medicinal and aromatic properties.

The lucrative black market - believed to be worth millions of dollars a year - is fed by Asian buyers.

Legitimate harvesters are required to register with the DEC and are subject to stringent transport requirements and quotas.

Buyers are also required to prove they are purchasing product from a legal sandalwood puller.

"The harvesting practices employed by illegal operators damage natural bushland and are wasteful and unsustainable," Mr Dawson said.

"They also threaten to undermine legitimate operators.

"Anyone involved in the sale, transport or processing of illegally harvested sandalwood faces prosecution under State legislation and will be required to forfeit all machinery and equipment used."

Illegal harvesting and stock theft have been two persistent issues for the region's pastoralists in recent years, with some pastoralists also lobbying for increased rights to harvest wood growing on their own land.

A petition on the matter was submitted to State Parliament by Mining and Pastoral MLC Wendy Duncan earlier this year.

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