Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fuelwood Gathering for the Winter

The Coronado National Forest near the US/Mexico border offers a free downed fuelwood permit every year.  Their intention is for citizens to aid in fire control while collecting fallen dead trees, mostly oak and manzanita.  My roommate and I decided we would take advantage of this offer yesterday, and we had a great time.

We got started at about 630am when we left to meet my friend's husband and buy a couple of chainsaws from him.  After that we headed down to Nogales to pick up the permits from the Ranger Station, and stop in Home Depot to pick up a couple of parts for the chainsaws.

After that, we finally were on Duquesne Road to Washington Camp and Loquiel, which is where most of the wood for collecting was located.  Here is a Google Map showing the area we were collecting in.  Most of what we collected was on the road between Washington Camp and Loquiel, but we found quite a bit north of Washington Camp as well, on the smaller roads that split off to the east.

View Larger Map

Naturally, when in a beautiful setting, doing something awesome like using a chainsaw, I couldn't help but snap a few testosterone driven pictures, and film some short videos. I include them here for your enjoyment and/or ridicule.

Old equipment from an abandoned mining operation west of Washington camp.


The wood we had collected along Duquesne Rd. between 
Washington Camp and Lochiel.  This picture is just north of
Washington Camp.

Brian and I wielding our chainsaws.

Our final take.  We estimate that to be just over 0.5 cords of wood.
Our permits are still good for another 1.5 cords.  We will definitely
be making a couple more trips.

When you have two chainsaws, how can you not pose like this?

The following YouTube videos are of us chainsawing some massive branches off of a dead oak that was so big it fell over on its side.  Getting these branches required us to climb up onto the tree, so how could we resist being awesome and dangerous at the same time?

And here I am getting the second one.

So as you can see, it was an awesome day yesterday.  Collecting firewood, using chainsaws, preventing intense forest fires in the area by removing some of the fuel.  We even encountered a local who said his name was Desert Arizona.  He tried to slyly trick us into cutting down a huge oak tree that was dead, but wasn't fallen, and wasn't quite on his property.  Since we weren't allowed to cut trees that hadn't fallen, we took off after he left the area.  But, with his semi-drunken ramblings he managed to stall us for the better part of two hours.  Annoying because I wanted to be collecting wood, but awesome because he said some crazy things.  Maybe someday I'll go back there and try to find him when I don't have something to do, and we can split a 12 pack and talk about the random stuff you talk about with an old guy who lives out in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, I want to tie this in with permaculture somehow. Obviously, I know that fires are a natural part of a forests lifecycle, and that all out prevention of them isn't necessarily healthy.  By never letting small fires occur, large amounts of fuel are able to build up, causing the massive fires you hear about on the news.  Well, if you're not going to let small fires happen because you're worried about them becoming massive fires, why not let people come in and remove that extra fuel that causes massive fires?  The free permits the Forest Service gives out to do so are a very permie solution, in my opinion.  

  • It follows the 5th principle, "Use and value renewable resources and services."  By only removing wood that has already fallen and is dead, we are not harming any trees still comprising the forest.
  • It follows the 9th principle, "Use slow and small solutions."  Ok ok, I know the chainsaw is not a slow and small solution, but it's fun and effective.  But, by only allowing one person one cord of wood each, you are removing small amounts of fuel slowly over time.  And to be honest, if Brian and I retrieve our full allotment of one cord each, we won't need to go back for several years.  That is slow and small.
  • It satisfies the concept that the problem is the solution.  What is the real problem that the Forest Service is trying to address?  Huge forest fires.  What causes those?  Too much dead wood from never allowing small fires.  What's the best solution?  Get rid of the extra wood.
  • The permits to remove the dead wood also serve as a stacking of functions.  The Forest Service doesn't have the budget or the manpower to remove all of that wood.  So they issue free permits for citizens to remove it.  This does several things all with one action.  1) It helps remove the wood., which helps prevent massive forest fires. 2) It serves the public by providing them with extremely low-cost fuel to heat the homes or cook with (essentially only the cost of the gas in your vehicle). 3) It reduces the man-power and budgetary resources involved on the part of the Forest Service in preventing forest fires.  4) It gives me an excuse to use a chainsaw. 
If more people became involved in taking care of our National Forests, rather than just enjoying them, I doubt that we would have some of the massive forest fires that have happened in southern Arizona in the last decade.  If the Forest Service can find more solutions similar to the free permit we used yesterday, and make the public aware of those solutions, I think there could be some serious progress in that direction.

To wrap it up, yesterday was an awesome day.  Fun productive, and just a little taste of what life might be like for me on my homestead once I finally realize my dream.  I have to sign off now, because I have some firewood to split.  Thanks for reading!


  1. I thought of another permie result of our firewood gathering. It totally satisfies the 3rd ethic of permculture, sharing the surplus. We have quite a few friends who are getting plenty of free wood from us now, and won't have to spend money on the overpriced garbage they sell at grocery stores and convenience stores.

  2. Looks like a good time! This is a rather silly link to pass on, but here is a blog about chopping wood:

    Kind of dumb, right? But I think the author is on to something about tapping a basic feeling that comes from felling trees and sawing logs. Anyway, I've enjoyed reading it from time to time.

    Enjoy your free firewood! I'm stuck with a pellet stove for now at my rented pad. But Luckily I got a truckload of pellets for dirt cheap.

    Have fun sawing your logs!

  3. Thanks Mark! I'll definitely check that blog out. I agree, there is a very natural, wholesome feeling that has to do with performing simple tasks like chopping wood. My roommate and I have both been reading about different and "proper" ways to do it so we can make sure to season our firewood just right. There have been a lot of interesting ideas for stacking, and definitely a lot of helpful tips for chopping. Thanks for another resource!

    Glad to hear you got your pellets for cheap. As you can imagine, winter heating in Tucson isn't too bad, but it's still enough that we'll be saving a lot of money by not using our gas heater and instead burning wood in our fireplace. I can't imagine what heating costs are like up there.

    How has the weather been for you? I keep seeing freezes and a bunch of rain for both Seattle and Portland, are you getting the same weather front in Victoria, or does Puget Sound insulate you from that?

  4. it's below freezing at night now, but we haven't seen any precipitation for a while. the olympic mountains cast a 'rain shadow' over victoria and consequently we get much less (about half) of the precipitation of vancouver and surrounding areas. however, there is apparently snow in the forecast, so this comment may have turned out differently had i waited until tomorrow morning to post it.

    as for heating costs, it's really not bad at all here. especially compared to where i lived before here (edmonton). it's funny-- in washington they act like seattle is the last stop before alaska; they really play up the rough and ruggedness of the place. however, to canadians, the west coast is our california. we come out here because the weather is so mild :)

  5. Western Canada gets the same sort of oceanic heating effect from the Pacific that the UK gets from the Atlantic, right? I've always been under the impression that it's much warmer there than people would anticipate, but I've never been so I don't know.

    I do know that if I ever decided to emigrate from the US to Canada, I would definitely find myself in BC. But to be honest, if I was going to emigrate, I'd probably try to go to Central America or northern South America. There are some really great permaculture projects taking place Latin America, plus being from Tucson, I have a certain affinity for latin women, and I already speak decent enough Spanish that I could get by until immersion took over.

    Anyhow, that's straying a bit off topic. Good luck with your snow situation, whichever way you want it to go. We just got some snow in southern AZ, but only on the peaks of our mountains, and I'm not sure how long it stuck around for.

  6. yes, coastal BC's weather is strongly influence/mitigated by the Pacific. I'm not sure how far inland the influence is felt, though. All I know for sure is I don't want to live in the prairies again. Especially not right now-- my hometown was the coldest place in North America on Saturday-- a whopping -46 celsius / -58 with wind chill.

    I feel you on the latin women. If I leave North America (who knows?) I'd definitely head for central or south America. I hear great things about the Santa Catarina region of Brazil, and of course Costa Rica is a longtime dream destination. I haven't had the opportunity to tour around those parts yet, but I am trying to learn a bit of Spanish for when the day comes.

    I've been drooling over this ecovillage in CR for the last couple years... If I had the cash I think I'd buy in... or at least go down to check it out.

    the developer runs which is a great site for dreaming about costa rica.

    cheers and happy holidays. I'm off to puerto rico for the next couple weeks so I might not be around to comment. later dude.

  7. Thanks for the awesome websites to check out.

    Happy holidays to you too, and have fun in Puerto Rico, I'm jealous!!