Four men face a range of penalties after being caught by Department of Conservation rangers removing wood from protected scenic reserves in the Rotorua area.
Three men were sentenced in the Rotorua District Court today on charges relating to a reserve near Mamaku and a fourth man was sentenced relating to a separate incident at Lake Rotoma.
Jordan William Robert Hodge, 29, bushman from Mamaku, Michael Jerome Leo Nicholson, 31, unemployed from Mamaku, and Connor Joseph Rivers, 17, fencer from Mamaku, appeared before Judge Alayne Wills and pleaded guilty to joint charges of removing wood.
Hodge and Rivers also pleaded guilty to providing false details to a department ranger.
A summary of facts said the department had been monitoring the reserve because it had noticed areas where tree ferns, exotic trees and native trees had been cut down and removed.
The summary said two rangers found the three men in the Patetere Scenic Reserve on March 12.
Department prosecutor Michael Bodie said this type of offending was prevalent but hard to detect and he asked the judge to impose a sentence that would be a deterrent.
He said one of the main concerns was people illegally felling trees where people could be present.
"It beggars belief the risk this creates," Mr Bodie said.
As well as a financial penalty, he asked Judge Wills to impose a short period of driver licence disqualifications to act as a "clipping of the wings" and deter offenders.
"We love our forests. It's important for tourists and it's important we protect them."
Nicholson's lawyer, Gisele Schweizer, said her client was on an ACC benefit and was simply trying to provide firewood for his family, including four children under 12.
"There is no suggestion of commercial gain . . . It is for the right reasons. He was just trying to support his family."
Lawyer Tim Braithwaite said Hodge's offending was at the lower end of the scale.
"It's a case of young men taking wood from a forest when they shouldn't have been."
Rivers' lawyer, Douglas Hall, asked his client be given a deferred sentence given he was only 17.
Judge Wills said the three men had taken trees that had already been felled.
"You had a ute-load of wood and you were working with a chainsaw. You are charged with taking the wood that was on the ute."
She said Nicholson's offending was less serious and he faced only one charge because he fully co-operated.
She convicted him and ordered he come up for sentence if called upon within nine months. She disqualified him from driving for two months.
She sentenced Rivers to 100 hours' community work and disqualified him from driving for two months, to be served concurrently with a current term of disqualification which ends in May next year.
Judge Wills fined Hodge $1250.
In the separate incident, Steven Peters, a 42 year-old paper maker of Kawerau, was convicted and fined $1250 for removing wood from Lake Rotoma Scenic Reserve.
Peters' lawyer, Mr Braithwaite, said his client would suffer hardship if he lost his licence because he looked after his 5-year-old son who had Down Syndrome.
A summary of facts said Peters drove past a department sign on July 8 to the spot where he took wood and loaded it on to his ute.
Mr Braithwaite said Peters knew he wasn't allowed to cut down trees but didn't realise taking wood off the ground was illegal.
"I'm satisfied you had mistaken the legal position but of course ignorance of the law is no excuse."
In both cases rangers seized the chainsaws used by the offenders along with the stolen wood which was loaded on to the offenders' utes.
In a written statement, department operations manager Jeff Milham said they were concerned about ongoing thefts in the Rotorua district and they were monitoring reserves for any sign of activity.
"DoC is willing to take enforcement action against any alleged offenders and appreciates the ongoing support of local communities in achieving this."