Illegal off-road joy rides and firewood theft devastate flood-impacted Murray River landscape

Thursday 1 February, 2024

Parks Victoria has issued 10 infringements to trailbike riders and four-wheel-drivers caught using protected wetlands and sand dunes as a “playground for illegal off-road joy rides” over the long weekend. 

After engaging with more than 100 visitors in flood-impacted Gunbower National Park, Authorised Officers were dismayed to witness 24 incidents of unlawful behaviour causing harm to the environment and cultural heritage.

Listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Gunbower National Park is internationally recognised for its breathtaking display of river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis). This delicate site has a diverse range of habitats, including permanent and semi-permanent wetlands, culturally significant sand dunes, creeks and open woodlands. 

Species like the Long Neck Turtle (Chelodina longicollis), Diamond Firetail (Stagonopleura guttata) and migrating Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus) rely on the sensitive sandy habitats for nesting. It is one of the few landscapes in the region where migratory birds from across the world – particularly waterbirds – rest, feed and breed.

Parks Victoria has committed to increasing patrols across Gunbower, Cohuna, Kerang and Leitchville following a spike in reports of illegal and unsocial behaviour on public land. 

As part of Operation Gunbower, Authorised Officers have now recorded more than 70 observations of illegal activity since early November, including an estimated 200 river red gums illegally felled from protected land over winter. 

Authorised Officers will continue patrolling target areas and educating visitors on public land rules as part of a staggered enforcement approach, issuing warnings and infringements as required.

We are grateful to most visitors who do the right thing. When on public land, remember:

All vehicles including trail bikes and e-bikes (with motors exceeding 200 watts) must be registered – check yours on the VicRoads website
Stay on the formed roads and vehicle tracks – do not ride on natural terrain, closed or management roads, in streams, or on informal single tracks
Comply with park signage and never drive in flood waters – a 4WD can be moved by water only 45cm deep

The community are encouraged to report illegal activities or suspicious behaviour to Parks Victoria on 13 1963 or Victoria Police. Penalties for illegal off-road activity, and damage to wildlife habitat and cultural heritage apply. 

Quotes attributable to Leeza Wishart, Parks Victoria Area Chief Ranger: 

“When people illegally take their vehicle off-road or cut down trees from public land, there is a real community cost. Damaging or taking away habitat hurts the health and long-term sustainability of Gunbower National Park, native wildlife and cultural heritage.

There are now deep holes caused by spinning wheels in wet ground. These bare areas are susceptible to the growth of weeds and ongoing erosion issues and could take months to recover. Losing established river red gums is devastating, as it takes decades for them to grow to mature height.
Parks Victoria is committed to caring for Country and protecting Victoria’s parks for everyone to enjoy. While this spike in illegal activity over the Australia Day long weekend is incredibly disappointing, we have seen a dramatic drop in the volume of reports across Gunbower, Cohuna, Kerang and Leitchville since commencing Operation Gunbower.”

Media enquiries

Dragana Mrkaja

Mobile: 0429 276 483

By using our site you accept that we use and share cookies and similar technologies with certain approved third parties. These tools enable us to improve your website experience and to provide content and ads tailored to your interests. By continuing to use our site you consent to this. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.