Community outrage surges as a spree of alleged deliberate poisonings leaves Norfolk Island Pines near-dead in Port Kembla, sparking calls for more robust and imaginative penalties for tree vandals.
Jess Whittaker was behind a community petition in 2019 to plant the trees on Cowper Street to provide shade to a children's playground and adjacent carpark and believes someone has taken to 10 of the 12 pines with poison for a better view.
"This is such an incredibly selfish act ... [as the] community strongly supported these trees being planted for shade around the carpark and children's park," she said.
"It's not the first time this has happened in Port Kembla; we clearly need to do more to send a strong message that vandalism of community trees in public reserves won't be tolerated as it's increasing heat, reducing shade and spoiling the amenity of our coast."
A spokeswoman for Wollongong City Council said there had been 14 incidents of tree vandalism over the past three years (not including the destruction of young, newly planted trees), with most occurring along coastlines or by Lake Illawarra.
"Damaging trees and plants on public land is a serious criminal offense," they said, adding a call for the public to supply any evidence to help investigations.
"Where sufficient evidence is available, [the] council will consider legal options."
The spokeswoman said trees were needed to reduce urban heat, increase biodiversity, offer shade, and improve the amenity of the city.
Meantime, Kiama LGA has also had issues with tree vandals over the years with 55 instances since 2019 (an average of 11 per year), with the majority along streets across from Jones Beach in Kiama Downs and Werri Beach in Gerringong.
Over the last three years, Shellharbour Council only received three reports of tree vandalism resulting in two prosecutions.
Wollongong Greens Councillor Cath Blakey agreed with Ms Whittaker it was a "selfish act", and suggested more "creative means" could be used in the area to deter vandals.
"Like we saw with the Belmore Basin billboard of community artworks and photos of the tea trees, the Brighton Le Sands containers decorated in murals of native plants and wildlife, or the Noosa's billboards which have an image of a beautiful Rainbow Bee-eater alongside the words 'who destroyed my home'," Cr Blakey told the Mercury.
"These billboards and containers are large and onsite while newly planted trees regrow. There is also an opportunity for community education and artistic celebration of our native plants and wildlife."
Anyone with information is asked to contact NSW Police (131444 or visit Wollongong Police Station - NSW Police Public Site), or contact Wollongong Council.
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