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DNR Fuelwood Permits Offer a Budget-Friendly Home Heating Option

December 3, 2009

Looking for a budget-friendly way to heat your home this winter? A fuelwood permit from the Department of Natural Resources may be the most economical option for those who heat with a woodstove or fireplace.

Available for only $20, a fuelwood permit allows a family to gather up to five cords of wood from state land per year between April 1 and Dec. 31. With less than one month until the fuelwood season closes, the DNR has seen a surge in permit applications this fall as more people headed into the woods to stock up on wood for the winter.

"The DNR's fuelwood permit system started in the mid-1970s, with numerous requests to cut dead elm trees in the wake of Dutch elm disease," said Bill Sterrett, DNR Forest Resource Management section manager for the Forest, Mineral and Fire Management Division. "The program then greatly accelerated during the recession years of the 1980s."

With today's economic problems and the rising costs of heating oil and LP gas, Sterrett said the DNR again is seeing much interest on the part of the consumer looking for ways to save money.

"In many parts of the state, we are seeing nearly twice the number of permits being sold as in recent years," he said.

At only $20 for five standard cords of wood -- a cord is measured by neatly stacking the wood in a line or row that is eight feet long, four feet wide and four feet high -- the savings for each family represents hundreds of dollars, versus buying the wood from a reseller.

Person using a chainsaw to gather fuelwoodIn addition to the low cost of the permit, any associated equipment costs to get outfitted for fuelwood gathering also is relatively low.

"Not much investment is needed in equipment to gather fuelwood," Sterrett said. "A decent chainsaw and a wheelbarrow will make the work more efficient, plus we recommend the use of leather gloves, heavy boots, safety chaps, safety glasses, ear protection and a hard hat. Other than that, you just need to put in the time and energy to gather the wood, which many people consider to be a form of recreation in the outdoors."

Fuelwood permits are sold at DNR field offices throughout the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula for the gathering of only dead and down wood from state forest land -- no standing dead trees make be cut down.

Each applicant is assigned a specific area of state forest land where they are allowed to gather the wood, which usually is the site of a previous timber sale where excess slash and unused tree tops can easily be accessed. Based on the condition of the site once the timber sale is completed, forest management unit foresters evaluate which closed timber sales are good candidates for fuelwood gathering and which should be closed to cutting.

The sites where fuelwood cutting is allowed also are evaluated for close proximity to existing roads and appropriate distance away from any waterbodies and other types of state land, such as campgrounds and wildlife management areas, which helps to reduce any environmental or social impacts.

Permit holders may use their vehicles only on existing roads and either need to carry cut wood from the site back to their vehicle, or are allowed the use of a wheelbarrow or hand cart to transport the wood over state land.

"The fuelwood permit system is an example of finding balance in the use of our resources," Sterrett said. "There is habitat value to leaving a certain amount of dead and down wood in the forest to decompose and offer ground shelter for various species of animals, but there is an undeniable benefit to the consumer who also is allowed to make use of the resource. Because most of the areas where fuelwood cutting is allowed are close to existing roads where timber sales have already taken place, we believe the ecological impacts are minimized while the benefits to our users are maximized."

Fuelwood permits can be purchased in person at DNR field offices in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula. Anyone interested in purchasing a permit should call ahead to their local DNR office to be sure permits are sold at that location, since not all offices are equipped to sell the permits.

Field staff who are familiar with the local state forest land will review each permit and provide the applicant with a map detailing the specific area where they can gather wood with their assigned permit.

Once a permit is purchased, the applicant typically has 90 days to complete their wood gathering (but a permit issued now is valid only through Dec. 31) and only one permit is allowed per family per year. The wood may be used only for personal use at a home or camp and may not be resold or traded.

The DNR also asks permit holders to not transport their fuelwood long distances to help prevent the spread of forest pests and diseases, such as emerald ash borer, oak wilt and beech bark disease. Additionally, if wood is gathered in areas under a firewood quarantine, no wood is allowed to leave the quarantined area. DNR field office staff will provide local information to fuelwood permit applicants about any quarantined areas before the permit is sold.

"The fuelwood permit program is not a money generator for the DNR, but rather is a service we provide to our users, much like trail systems or campgrounds," Sterrett said. "In light of that, we simply ask that each permit holder enjoys their time in the woods but sticks to the rules to help us minimize the movement of firewood and prevent the spread of forest pests and disease. This will help keep the program affordable for both the DNR and our users. In this economy, we all can appreciate things that are budget-friendly."

For more information about the DNR's fuelwood permit program and for a list of field offices where permits are sold, go online to www.michigan.gov/dnr and search for "fuelwood."

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