March 16, 2010

States offer public cheap firewood

— The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Doug Jones Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2007: A front end loader loads logs onto the rack of the wood processor at McLucas Trucking as the machine cuts and splits firewood, constantly spewing sawdust. $100,00 invested in a wood splitter and warm winter weather has put McLucas Trucking in Porter with a surplus, and similar investments from other companies have created a glut of firewood.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — To offset rising fuel costs, Maine and Vermont are taking steps to make the two states' abundant supplies of firewood available to homeowners at reduced costs.

Vermont has launched a firewood subsidy, hoping to supply low- and moderate-income Vermonters with firewood to fill their wood-burning stoves this winter.

Maine's Bureau of Parks and Lands has a firewood sales program for individuals with a chain saw and pickup truck, which is run out of offices in Farmington, Old Town and Ashland. Foresters mark trees on public lands that are suitable for firewood. Trees near roads are marked because the foresters know the trees are to be used for firewood.

The wood is sold for $25 per cord, and individuals are required to cut and remove it. Generally, there's a 10-cord maximum for any one purchaser. A permit is required.

With increased interest in the program, thousands more cords are expected to be harvested from the woods in the weeks leading up to winter, the state Department of Conservation said Thursday. But the department has been able to respond to all permit requests so far.

''We've been able to help historically through this program,'' said Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan. He said that despite the increased demand, the department will do its best to respond to the public's needs in light of high fuel prices and heavy demand for heating wood.

In Vermont last month, state officials unveiled ''Wood Warms,'' a three-part initiative that will provide a limited supply of firewood. One part relies on a decades-old initiative that the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is beefing up to meet rising demand.

''We used to be more reliant on our backyards and forests for fuel,'' said Commissioner Jonathan Wood. ''I think we have to head back there in the future. We're kind of going forward into the past.''

The state opened its first roadside firewood lots back in the 1970s so the public could fell their own trees and transport the wood home for splitting, Wood said.

Now the state has nearly 80 roadside lots and expects to open more soon. The wood is cheap, selling for $60 to $10 per cord, but only about five cords are available at each lot and it will not be dry enough to burn this winter.

''The reason this is up and running is this has been an ongoing program,'' Wood said. ''It stalled and got smaller but we're ramping them back up substantially.''

The state also plans to supply dry, split wood to low-income Vermonters who don't qualify for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. LIHEAP pays 60 percent of winter heating bills, but only covers residents who earn less than 125 percent of the poverty level.

It's unclear how much seasoned wood will be available. Volunteers, the National Guard and possibly even prison crews will split the wood, Wood said.

''The concept is to get the wood from state forests to concentration zones, then get it cut up and sent out to the people who need it,'' Wood said. ''I'm trying to find every stick of wood I can for people to burn this winter.''

The state also is working to decrease the cost of cord wood by increasing the supply.

''We are aggressively working on state lands and with logging companies to increase the amount of wood on the firewood market,'' Wood said.

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