Sustainable firewood production

It’s the time of year when North Country homeowners and renters start to think about, and prepare, for the upcoming heating season. The price of heating oil, propane and natural gas all reached record highs earlier this year. And what we’ll be paying for those fuels during the winter is anyone’s guess. The price will depend on many factors, including the weather, supply and demand both locally and worldwide, and inflation. Whatever the cost, it’s apparent that high fuel prices aren’t going away and that fuel prices are just one of several inflation pressures that everyone’s facing.

Heating with firewood: Before you start cutting

With that in mind, an increasing number of people are turning to, or at least considering, the possibility of heating their homes (at least partially) with firewood. Some forest landowners are looking at harvesting firewood for both home heating and as a source of additional income. Before getting started, however, inexperienced landowners need to be able to recognize the real value of their trees; especially the one they’re removing.

The value of a tree increases, often significantly, as it grows larger. And, as a general rule, sugar maple will be worth more than black cherry, which will be will be worth more than red oak, which will be more valuable than red maple or white ash, which will be more valuable than yellow or white birch, which will be worth more than beech or aspen (poplar).

Improving your stand: Weeding the forest

Detrimental harvesting practices have left an overabundance of dead, dying, crooked and diseased trees in forest land across the state. Thinning or culling a hardwood stand for firewood involves removing those undesirable, poor quality trees; the ones that compete with the best crop trees or hamper the growth of straight, healthy, desirable, younger trees. The process can be thought of as similar to weeding a garden.

By removing those low-grade cull-trees for firewood, forest landowners can improve the quality, species composition, and growth rate of their timber stands. They can benefit by heating their homes with the firewood they harvest from their forest, thereby saving money that they would otherwise have to spend on heating oil, propane, natural gas, or electricity. They benefit from an increased sense of self-sufficiency. And they can market what they don’t use, receiving income from the sale of otherwise unmarketable trees.

Productive management of your woodlot or forest

I’ve heard it said that the productivity of a woodlot isn’t measured in the wood that’s harvested; it’s measured in the amount of wood the land is able to continually produce. Unfortunately, short term economic considerations coupled with a lack of knowledge of forestry and silviculture practices have all too often given rise to timber harvests that degrade habitat, water quality, and the future timber value of forest property. Regrettably, many of the forest landowners that I speak with, whether they’ve inherited land that has been in their family for generations or recently purchased land for recreation or investment, are unfamiliar with, or do not fully understand, the concept of sustainable forestry or its basic elements.

Once informed, however, almost all private forest landowners choose to learn how to harvest (and market) their timber sustainably; employing timber stand activities that will result in faster growing, more productive forest stands of desirable species. Many place equal, if not greater importance, on using timber harvesting practices that protect the quality of the water on and beneath their property and that improve the quality of wildlife habitat and the opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Owners of well-managed forest property have healthier timber stands with improved timber growth. And, as such, they experience a continuing increase in the economic, ecological, recreational and spiritual value of their land. At the same time, they help maintain the environmental health and the rural character of northern New York and the Adirondacks.

Work safely

While working in your woods can be abundantly satisfying and tremendously rewarding, utilizing the knowledge and experience of others is essential if you’re going to succeed. Equally essential are planning, using common sense, paying close attention to safety and wearing suitable personal protective equipment, including a hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, a sturdy pair of boots and gloves and protective chainsaw pants or chaps.

Whenever possible, avoid inclement weather and working alone. Remain aware of those working around you at all times. Rest often, and stay alert and hydrated.

Felling trees can be exciting, but it’s extremely dangerous and should not be attempted without a basic knowledge of felling techniques. Before felling any tree, you need to check the tree top to see if broken or dead limbs are present. Limbs hanging or lodged in the tops of trees are commonly called “widow makers,” and it’s best to avoid these perils, even if you’re experienced.

Keep in mind, too, that chain saw accidents account for around 30,000 injuries annually in the United States. Most of those are injuries to arms, hands, and legs.

More information

For more information on harvesting firewood from your woodlot, visit franklin.cce.cornell.edu/environment/forestry and click on the “Firewood from Your Forest” link.


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