Anyone caught illegally felling trees on council-owned land can expect to be slapped with a criminal charge, a Central Otago District Council spokesman warns.
Council property and facilities manager Mike Kerr said the problem had been ongoing and while the council had initially been lenient, it was now taking a stronger stance on the matter.
One particular area being targeted in Alexandra was The Pines.
“There were clearly 15 stumps – fresh as a daisy and sawdust all around them,” Mr Kerr said.
“The odd person has said ‘that’s a dead tree’, he said, of their justification for cutting it down.
“But often they are not [dead] and it’s not the point.”
Mr Kerr said the issue was also a problem near Cromwell, particularly in the council’s large pine block in Bannockburn.
He warned people to consider that if they were caught, they would face a theft charge.
“Over the past three years we’ve caught three people.”
People out walking were among the council’s informants.
Culprits caught in the past had been forced to give the cut wood to service clubs for distribution to people in need.
“It’s got to the point where we are going to have to be a lot tougher on people. We are going to need to say to police, ‘charge them’. We don’t like doing that to people, naturally,” he said.
“We’ve got to the point where we’re not going softly, softly. We will let the legal process take its course.”
Mr Kerr said from now on the council would tell police about any tree thefts on to police and pass on any information they had been given, including photos of car registrations.
He said the council want to educate the public that taking trees from council land was not OK.
Not only was it illegal, it was a safety hazard, he said.
“They wouldn’t do it on someone else’s private property so why do they think they can do it on council land? It’s theft.”
Cameron, of Alexandra, said anyone caught could be charged with theft, which comes with a maximum of 17 years’ imprisonment.
“Don’t take stuff that isn’t yours – that’s the bottom line,” he said.