By DAVID MOASE
THE theft of $30,000 worth of eucalyptus seeds from a Coffs Harbour forest has all the signs of a professional job, according to David Wilson.
Mr Wilson, the North East Region community forester for Forests NSW, said the theft in the East Orara State Forest had only just been discovered, with staff believing the offence occurred last December.
"Only a professional would have been capable of doing the job," he said.
"Climbing spikes were used to get up and down the trees to heights between 20 metres and 40 metres.
"The trees were then very heavily pruned and the branches taken to ground level, where the ends of the branches were pruned further.
"The gumnuts would then have been taken away to be dried and the seeds removed."
The seed thief targeted one particular eucalypt species, known as Dunn's white gum.
A fast-growing species, it is used to make pulp and high-quality paper, and grows naturally in an area of only a few hundred kilometres around Coffs Harbour.
Forests NSW has a stand of Dunn's white gum growing near the Central Bucca Road and the targeted trees were alongside the road, meaning the thief would have been visible to anyone driving past at the time.
The theft was discovered by a licensed seed collector, and Mr Wilson said it was the latest in a series of robberies.
"We have had a number of seed thefts in the past two to three years," he said.
"Because this was such a big job and the seeds are so valuable, it is time to say enough is enough."
Mr Wilson said the thief would probably look to sell the seeds on the international market, where there was strong demand for eucalypts.
Countries in South America, Central America and South-East Asia were planting large areas of eucalypts, mainly for pulp production.
Hopes of finding the person responsible for the theft were boosted yesterday by a telephone call to Forest NSW.
Mr Wilson said the caller had provided a strong lead to the identity of the thief and the information had been passed on to the police.
"The information we have received today may go a long way to seeing this case end up in court," he said.
"Most people who use our forests are perfectly entitled to be there for recreation or legal firewood gathering, for which we issue a permit.
"But if people appear to be acting suspiciously, they should be reported in case they are involved in improper use of State assets."
Suspicious activity in a State forest should be reported to Mr Wilson on 6652 0111.