March 18, 2010

The Knock on Wood

By TUX TURKEL and TOM BELL, Staff Writers

Summer has barely begun, but Maine residents looking to install wood heating systems this winter may already have waited too long, stove dealers and firewood suppliers say.


Stoves that burn firewood are available, but finding the logs will be difficult. Wood pellets are in good supply – for now. But the special stoves that burn them are largely sold out.


With home heating oil averaging well above $4 a gallon, many Mainers are desperate to find a more affordable way to stay warm this winter. For households that have done nothing so far, however, lining up a stove and fuel supply will be a challenge.


Many firewood dealers have stopped taking new customers or have long waiting lists. Several firewood dealers contacted by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram said they won’t be able to deliver green wood until this fall – too late for the wood to dry for use this winter.


Demand is up fourfold from a year ago, said Jake Dyer, owner of Southern Maine Firewood in Gorham. He said he turned away 150 customers in just two days last week.


“The amount of calls we are getting is just unbelievable,” he said. “In a nutshell, there are a lot of people who are not going to get wood this year.”


Usually this time of year, Maine Custom Firewood in Pownal gets four to five calls a day. The company is now getting 30 to 40 calls daily, said co-owner Tom Cushman, a professional logger.


The company last week stopped answering the telephone. Callers now get an answering machine message saying it has suspended taking orders.


Those able to find firewood are going to pay more for it. A cord of green wood is selling for $220 to $260. Last year, a cord sold for $180 to $190.


Barbara Price of Scarborough thought she was all set for winter when she recently installed a new wood stove.
She called a firewood dealer in early June and left a message ordering two cords of wood. She called back the company last week and found that the company never got the message and that there was no wood available. She’s now on a waiting list.


She’s also been looking for firewood on Craigslist, but hasn’t been able to find anybody selling it.


“It’s very scary,” she said. “We are really counting on the wood. We don’t know what we are going to do. We can’t afford to pay for oil all winter.”


DEMAND EXCEEDS SUPPLY


There are several factors contributing to the firewood shortage, said Eric Kingsley, a forest resources consultant.


First, there are a lot of people who own wood stoves but have used them only sporadically over the past several years. With oil prices now at record levels, many are planning to use them as much as possible this winter, he said.


At the same time, the region’s coated-paper mills are operating at full capacity, increasing demand for pulpwood. He said the same tree species are used for both hardwood pulp and firewood.


Essentially, paper companies and firewood dealers are competing for the same trees, but the paper companies are able to pay more, he said.


Yet despite the increased demand, logging activity is down, he said.


With the construction industry in a slump, fewer people are cutting trees for lumber, which fetches a premium price. Also, there are fewer lots being cleared for development.


Finally, last winter was a difficult one for loggers. A huge amount of snow fell before the ground got a chance to freeze. That put a lot of areas off-limits to logging because regulations prohibit loggers from working when conditions are muddy.

(Continued on page 2)

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