Firewood collection best practice

By Peter McGlone

The TCT has long advocated for better management and regulation of firewood collection. As well as encouraging other heating methods, we have supported a move away from sourcing wood from old-growth trees (alive, dead or fallen) because of their importance for biodiversity, towards using young regrowth trees from forests that are not habitats of threatened species or ecological communities. Until recently, my support of plantation wood for firewood had been dismissed (see below).

The Advocate newspaper ran an impressive article recently regarding the increase in illegal taking of firewood, particularly on Forestry Tasmania land, in the lead up to winter (‘Winter firewood warming’, 30 March 2016). The impressive part was the interview with local Wynyard firewood seller Claire Edwards.

Claire’s business, Edwards Landscaping and Supplies, guarantees that: “All wood is dried for at least eight months before we sell it.” In my view, eight months, including one summer, is quite adequate to dry wood ready to burn efficiently, with minimal air pollution. This is the first time I have heard of a business giving such a guarantee, and hopefully it will inspire other wood suppliers to adopt the practice.

She also said, “The timber is sourced from logging coupes that have a forest practices plan” guaranteeing that the wood has been taken legally and is not from reserves or stolen from private land. Claire’s approach may not be perfect but it is probably best practice.

While the Forest Practices System is far from perfect, using FPPs means that impacts on natural values are assessed and measures are taken to reduce them. Most firewood collectors do not carry out any assessment and probably make no concessions to natural values. In fact, permits are not required for harvesting less than one hectare or 100 tonnes per year.

Claire told me that very little dead standing wood is available and her business generally uses regrowth wood, but it cannot yet be guaranteed. Most regrowth wood is green, hence the need for long-term drying. Some wood is salvaged residue from logging operations that would otherwise be left to rot or burnt.

Her business has been contracted to remove forest prior to houses being built (under a FPP), which at least makes use of wood that might otherwise have been wasted. It probably results in a better impact assessment than would be done by most councils.

Interestingly, Claire’s business also acquires some wood from hardwood plantations where the timber is too low in quality for land holders for pulp or saw logs. She says that plantation trees have the advantage of being easier to split and can be easier to access and handle.

Buying wood from a reputable wood yard, means that you know where to go if you have complaints about the load size or quality. We often hear of customers who have bought green or underweight loads from roadside sellers who are unidentifiable and cannot be contacted.

One of the drivers of bad practice in firewood collection is that many smaller operators cannot afford to hold. They respond to increased demand during winter by sourcing wood from old-growth trees, in particular dead standing timber that is dry and ready to burn, which negatively impacts the biodiversity values of those areas.

In 2004 the TCT was a member of the state government’s Firewood Working Group. We advocated that the proposed Firewood Action Plan should include government financial support for the establishment of wood yards and stockpiling. The Firewood Action Plan was never completed and this idea never got political traction.

In the current political climate  it might more effective to lobby businesses directly to apply best practice firewood collection. We will continue to promote good practices, such as Claire’s, in the hope that it encourages others.