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ILLEGAL SANDALWOOD HARVEST COULD DEPLETE STOCK IN THE WILD

THEFT & HARVEST OF SANDALWOOD BUSTED BY THE SANDALWOOD POLICE

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Two hundred tonnes of sandalwood believed to have been illegally harvested in Western Australia may have been discovered by police but it is likely many more tonnes have been illegally harvested in the state this year.

Sometimes referred to as “wooden gold”, sandalwood has been an increasing target for thieves because of the high price its oil, used in perfumes and incenses, can fetch.

A submission by the Department of Environment and Conservation to a state government inquiry on sandalwood in 2012, said the scale of illegal sandalwood has “expanded rapidly in recent years.”

While an interim report was compiled as part of the inquiry, the inquiry itself is ongoing.

In the 20 months leading up to the submission, 20 consignments of illegally harvested sandalwood, weighing in excess of 175 tonnes and potentially valued at $2.5 million, was seized.

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In the five years prior to the submission, just one offender involved in one consignment of illegally harvested sandalwood was successfully prosecuted.

The DEC’s submission said that it was thought the annual illegal harvest of sandalwood was believed to be about 500 tonnes.

“Harvesting occurs in remote areas, where detection is very difficult; people are willing to load and transport sandalwood vast distances, risking detection on the road; there are buyers prepared to accept, conceal, process and export illegal sandalwood and sandalwood oil,” the submission said.

The submission pointed out that as well as a high price, inadequacies in the regulatory regime and unfulfilled demand was feeding the growth in illegal harvesting.

The DEC submitted that “legislative reforms to provide a more effective regulatory regime, and an updated species management plan and industry management plan, should be developed to ensure the continued viability of the species and of the industry.”

In the submission, the DEC admitted that prior to the 1980s, sandalwood was harvested from the wild with limited knowledge of the extent and nature of the resource.

Australian Sandalwood Network chief executive Bethan Lloyd said minimal regulation which led to over farming of the wood had decimated much of the world’s sandalwood stock.

“Sandalwood is in short supply across the world, every week I get calls from people wanting to buy it but I have to say sorry- there isn’t enough,” she said.

Western Australia’s sandalwood plantation industry only started 15 years ago with growers establishing sandalwood plantations mostly in the Wheatbelt.

There is still a way to go, with a few years until the first wood in the plantations has produced oil and is ready to be harvested.

The price depends on the quality of the wood but a good quality tonne of the wood could fetch $15,000.

Ms Lloyd said most of the theft she was aware of had been from reserves and roadsides but she said there were incidents where thieves had targeted plantations.

“A few years ago there was an incident near Geraldton, but the Sandalwood was only eight years old – too young to have any oil content, there is no oil until it is 10 or 15 years old.”

She said illegal harvesting could deplete stocks.

“The taking of sandalwood from the wild undermines efforts for sandalwood to be a sustainable industry for WA.”

Environment Minister Albert Jacob said changes to legislation dealing with sandalwood may be considered once the inquiry into the matter had completed its final report.

“Among the inquiry’s terms of reference are the future management and regulation of the sandalwood industry. The committee’s report will inform future legislative changes, including the proposed Biodiversity Conservation Act,” he said.

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December 3rd, 2013
Topic: PLANTS CROPS WEEDS, THEFT & CRIME, TIMBER WOOD TREES, TREES TIMBER Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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