Sunday, April 3, 2011

Changes in the Land

Some of you city slickers who see this may figure I'm pretty well set for next winter. I wish. This is a decent start, but half of this still needs to be split and it all needs to be put away in the woodshed, which, oh yeah, doesn't even exist yet. (Click to enlarge; click twice for the really big view.)

The source of most of what you see here is my neighbor, who is selling off some building lots (alas). He knows about this blog now so he might even read this. (Yo, Henry!) I'm helping us both out by removing whatever of the debris from road and lot clearing is suitable to be consumed one day by a Vermont Castings Defiant Parlor Furnace. Ultimately, if I keep at it and work hard enough, there's enough there for me to get three or four years ahead, easily. And I still have at least three or four cords worth down on my own property.

Now's the time -- the voice of the chainsaw is heard throughout the land.

But ... Henry and I were talking with his logger yesterday, and it seems since the price of fossil fuels started in a general upward direction a few years ago the firewood market has taken off. It is now basically impossible to buy two-year wood; the sheds have been emptied. One year wood is all you can get. For those of you who don't know the art of wood burning, you can call wood "seasoned" that's only a year old but it takes two years for it to get optimally dry, and that used to be the standard.

So, what does this mean? Maybe it's not so good. As I have discussed here before, the Europeans cleared the New England forest not so much to make way for field and pasture, or for timber, but for fuel. In commercial quantities, that mostly means charcoal. It was the coming of the fossil fuel era that allowed the forest to grow back.

Firewood around here right now mostly comes from land that is cleared for other purposes, as in my current case; and from sustainable harvest in well-managed private holdings, public forests and private watersheds, (which I used to participate in with my father on New Haven Water Company property), often as a byproduct of logging. Land owners generally know enough not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

But right now, we're flat out. There is no more to be had. That means, presumably, that the price will be going up, and the temptation to fell more trees will grow. This is one more inconvenient truth about the Long Emergency we may have to confront.


  1. Ah, and then we have biomass plants: Talk about an incentive to denude the landscape!

    A friend who lives right near where this would be going in said that a Madera official told the crowd that they didn't need to worry about pollution, because the stack would be so high, it would send the pollution out of the area. As in: "What's the worry? We'll be polluting someone else's air, so it's all okay!"

  2. How much wood do you use in a year?

    As a benchmark, I live at about 3,300 ft & 47.5 N. I use less than 2 cords. I supplement with passive solar and some baseboard (baseboard when I'm lazy and sometimes overnight if it's really cold).

    I primarily use cottonwood & some lodge-pole pine. Neither have the high BTU content of a hardwood.

  3. C -- Yes, the idea of using logging waste sounds good (Why let it go to waste?) but leaving the tops in the woods is important. As they break down, they return some nutrients to the soil, and they provide a place for seedlings to get started with some protection from the deer. So they're important to regeneration. Just stripping everything out is bad policy. Also, its an incentive to cut younger trees, and more trees, as you suggest. Wood doesn't burn clean but smokestacks can be scrubbed. I'd want to know exactly what's coming out of that stack.

    D-- 2011-2012 will be my first winter staying there regularly, but last winter I never turned on more than 3 baseboards (out of a dozen) and the house never got really cold. My climate is a bit milder than yours and the house is also passive solar design. On cold sunny days, no fire is necessary till evening. So I don't expect to use a whole lot, but we'll see. I also have to supply my mother and my aunt.

    I have mostly oak, some maple and beech, so it's good stuff.

  4. so that "just in time" inventory game is breaking down even in the firewood biz. we struggled this past winter with unseasoned wood hastily bought in january when we installed a wood stove.

    we will have 2 year wood next winter. it's one year wood now. we do have many years of pine firewood standing as overgrown forest in need of thinning to reduce fire danger. there's some irony there.

    humans may well strip the planet of firewood while contaminating it on other ways to get oil.