Baker City, OR – The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest has been and continues to be a major source of firewood for private and commercial firewood gatherers. In some areas fuelwood was easy to find in the past and in some cases free of charge. While the regulations for firewood cutting haven’t changed on the Wallowa-Whitman since 1995, firewood has become more difficult to find. “We recognize and understand the need and strong desire for this long-standing traditional activity to continue and we are committed to and actively exploring additional opportunities to provide fuelwood for the public,” reported Forest Supervisor John Laurence.
The Forest has established rules that guide how and when firewood can be collected on National Forest System lands in order to protect sensitive resources and areas. Working within those rules, the Forest is making a concerted effort to provide more fuelwood opportunities for the public through establishing Special Fuelwood Areas (SFAs). These Areas are intended to provide the public with additional firewood collection opportunities and in certain cases, help with fuels reduction to reduce the risk of fire. SFAs may be identified and utilized to provide for collection of ponderosa pine and green trees, to remove hazardous trees of all species, to access areas previous inaccessible to the public for a period of time to collect firewood, and to provide for other firewood opportunities that don’t currently exist. Here are some examples of what the Forest is doing to provide fuelwood opportunities:
On the La Grande Ranger District, excess trees from hazard tree work along Catherine Creek Summit are being decked in the back of Catherine Creek Sno-park and permits are available at the Ranger District that will allow for removal of these trees. Beetle killed trees in the Blue Mountains Oregon Trail Park were sold as a small commercial firewood sale. Potential areas in the Limber Jim area are being evaluated to identify to open for public and/or commercial firewood gathering—where necessary, we will open closed roads to provide access. Additionally, the Bird Track Springs fuels reduction project will make thinning slash available for public firewood gathering in flat areas accessible by pick-ups.
The Wallowa Mountains Office (WMO) in Joseph has been working with the public to help identify areas in need of thinning for fuels reduction, removing dead wood as well as thinning the smaller green trees. Future projects include firewood collection areas near Muddy Sled, Puderbaugh, and Cold Canal timber sales. The WMO is actively working with the community discussing public involvement, education, and other fuelwood opportunities such as green wood for firewood, helping to reduce fuels, and utilizing some slash piles for firewood collection.
The Whitman Ranger District will be announcing the Cornet Creek SFA in the Sundry Stewardship project soon. Next year, several new fuelwood collection areas available, including parts of the Hooker Flat fire north of Halfway and thinning in the Puzzle timber sale, which is part of the Snow Basin Vegetation Management project north of Richland. There are also some good opportunities for firewood collection near Unity due to bark beetle infestations. Forest Service crews will be assessing these areas this fall.
“While we continue to search for additional fuelwood opportunities, we continue to hear questions from the public about the regulations,” states Bill Gamble, La Grande District Ranger. Some of the questions include: Why does the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest have regulations and seasons regarding firewood collection? Why can I cut only trees less than 24 inches at stump height? Why are ponderosa pine trees excluded from firewood collection? These are the questions we all ask as we load up our pick-up trucks and head into the woods. So let’s explore some of these rules and regulations and why they exist.
The fuelwood collection season extends from May 1 to November 30. The reason for establishing a collection season is based on a variety of resource concerns including reducing the traffic and damage on Forest roads during the wet season, reducing the potential for sediment to enter streams protecting soil, water, and fish and limiting disturbance to wildlife during the critical winter season. During normal winters, the established season should not have a major impact on the public, since most of the Forest roads are blocked by snow or designated for snowmobile routes.
Fire danger levels may also limit the collection season. During the summer, Public Use Restrictions (PURs) are implemented, in phases, to reduce the risk of a fires starting during periods of high fire danger. These restrictions are carefully considered before being implemented and are intended to improve the safety of our public and limit unwanted impacts to the public lands and resources.
Phase A of the PURs, which are currently in place as of this press release, implements the 1:00 PM – 8:00 PM shut down of chainsaws and requires a one hour fire watch after saw operations cease. Saw operators are required to have an axe (minimum 2 lb head, 26” length), shovel (8” wide, 26” length), and fire extinguisher (minimum ABC 8 oz) in their possession. Phases B and C prohibit the operation of chainsaws.
Another question that comes up is why can’t I cut any size tree? Large trees and subsequent snags take a long time to develop and historic logging practices often focused on removal of the larger diameter trees (especially ponderosa pine) that would have become snags over time. The larger diameter snags provide a variety of unique and valuable habitat for many birds and mammals including nesting, denning, foraging, and hibernating habitats.
Given the historic harvests of large diameter trees, large diameter snags are not as abundant or well distributed across the landscape, thus the need to retain existing large snags, standing or downed. Leaving larger snags on the landscape also helps maintain a healthy supply of large woody debris for habitat in area streams and long-term sources of organic matter essential for maintaining soil productivity. The public can support the Forest Service and help maintain healthy populations of snag dependent birds and mammals by following the regulations. At the time the Fuelwood Environmental Assessment was written, the Forest was deficient in the population of ponderosa pine snags according to a scientific analysis. The Forest decided that excluding ponderosa pine from firewood gathering would help restore snags in the areas that lack large woody debris.
The Forest strives to implement a fuelwood program that provides goods and services for the public, while considering the diverse values of standing and downed dead woody material to the forest ecosystem. Management of the Forest’s fuelwood resources is guided by the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Land Management Plan as amended by the 1995 Forest Firewood Environmental Assessment. The Forest plans to continue to offer a sustainable fuelwood program that responds to the needs of the public and the environment for many generations to come.
As always your input is greatly appreciated. Please visit the Wallowa-Whitman website atwww.fs.usda.gov/wallowa-whitman to learn more about the fuelwood program and to share your thoughts about collecting firewood.