Firewood Collecting at Sagehen

California forests are in trouble, thanks to 100 years of management for maximum timber yield without adequate consideration of wildfire, water quality, recreation, or non-game wildlife. Taking out the big, fire-resistant logs and leaving the torchy tree tops, branches, twigs, needles, brush, leaves and small trees is exactly the wrong thing to do, yet that is what the timber industry has always done. We need a new kind of timber industry that uses small-diameter wood in engineered wood products, biomass energy, and biochar soil enhancement.

Our science-based, community-developed Sagehen Forest Project prescription brought loggers and environmentalists into agreement on a strategy that restores more wildlife habitat, does just as much fuel reduction, and actually brings more wood out of the forest than a traditional timber cut: everyone gets what they want!

It works by honoring everyone’s values, and not treating every acre exactly the same, as in the past. The strategy restores a more natural patchiness and lower density of trees to replace the past tactic of treating trees as a crop and trying to pack as many in as possible to maximize revenue.

We implemented the prescription at Sagehen using grant money as a demonstration project. Since there is no existing market for the under-12″ diameter material we removed, it sits in piles in the forest, waiting to be burned in place. Sometimes, we allow firewood cutters to come into the station to collect this wood.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Get a firewood permit from the Tahoe National Forest.
  2. Contact us to request permission to visit the station. Be sure to get the current gate combination! Use Google Maps to find us–other mapping apps may send you to the wrong location.
  3. There are piles on both sides of the road as you drive between the east and west gates. The wood is mostly Lodgepole and some Jeffrey Pine. Some was dead, most was live when cut and piled in 2016.
  4. Do not block the road! Though the station may be quiet when you arrive, that can suddenly change with the arrival of a large group. Also, a fire truck must be able to pass at any time.
  5. NO DROPPING TREES! We have already cut all the trees that we want to come down. Any standing dead was left in place for wildlife and needs to stay there!
  6. Help yourself to wood that is in the piles. But you must re-pile the remaining wood when you are done, including the plastic sheet that keeps the heart of the pile dry so that we can eventually light it on fire when the rest of the forest is wet. FYI, there are literally hundreds of piles (see picture at top of page). The piles closest to the road have been mostly picked over, but if you are willing to go a little further there are thousands of cords of wood out there. A wheelbarrow may be useful.
  7. You can also help yourself to any longer (4′-6′) log segments left on the ground that have chainsaw scars on them.
  8. CHAINSAW SCARS ARE LITTER. If you leave a chainsaw scar on something, either haul it out or consider it trash and pile it for burning. Don’t cherry-pick your way through the forest, leaving a giant mess! This project holds the potential to alter forest management policy in the western US, breaking the logger vs. environmentalist impasse and creating a new kind of sustainable forestry industry. Leaving the forest looking messed up and trashy could jeopardize that.