Firewood will be in short supply this winter

Need firewood for the winter? Good luck. October is here and cooler temperatures are around the corner, but don’t be surprised if you have trouble finding seasoned firewood to keep your fireplace or wood-burning stove fueled throughout the long winter ahead.

“It’s just not available,” said Jud Beattie, president of Southern Tier Forest Products.

Don’t bother calling Custom Cordage, either.

“The Average Joe is really going to have a problem getting wood this year,” said owner Rich Vogt.

The sign at Forest Products Firewood says it all:

Firewood sold out until spring.

“This was a first,” owner Rich Clay said. “For the first time in 35 years, our firewood business was sold out before September.”

The weather is largely responsible for the shortage of firewood this year, distributors said.

Wood piles dwindled during the cold, brutal winter, and anxious homeowners – worried about another freeze and the volatility of fossil fuel prices – grabbed extra firewood for the upcoming season.

“There’s a big demand,” said Eric Carlson, president of Empire State Forest Products Association, an industry trade group. “It’s been an ongoing issue all summer long and will be through the fall.”

At the same time, the long winter and wet spring prevented loggers from getting into the backwoods to bring out more firewood.

“It’s just been too muddy,” Beattie explained.

“Normally in summertime the guys catch up,” he said. “It’s dry. You can get more work done. That didn’t happen. I know crews that were sitting for four or five weeks at a time.”

Similar warnings about the short supply of firewood are being reported in regions throughout the Northeast and upper Midwest.

On a recent morning, Clay and his wife, Cindie, pointed out all the open space on their 10 acres in Clarence.

“Every empty space you see should be filled with wood,” Clay said.

Their company, Forest Products Firewood on Roll Road, is billed as the largest year-round firewood distributor in Western New York. It has supplied 11,000 customers with firewood since opening in 1980.

Last year, the Clays sold and delivered 2,500 face cords, each roll being four feet high and eight feet wide.

But this year, the short supply will drop sales about 40 percent.

“We have at least 3,000 regular customers we cannot provide firewood for,” Clay said.

Wood burners are scrambling.

“I’m getting eight to 15 calls a day for firewood,” said Greg Sojka, owner of Greg’s Tree Service in Bowmansville, which sells firewood on the side.

“Normally, we have enough wood to take us into December,” Sojka said, “but we’ll be sold out probably by the end of October.”

The weather may be the primary cause for this year’s shortage, but distributors said the reduction of firewood has become a trend in recent years for a combination of reasons.

It’s not a shortage of natural resources, said Carlson, of the trade group.

There’s plenty of timber, he said, and New York State is growing it faster than it can be harvested.

But the supply of firewood Clay has on hand has dropped the past several years since the state Department of Environmental Conservation imposed tougher regulations to protect trees from invasive species.

That meant Clay – and others – could no longer truck in firewood from Canada, Pennsylvania or elsewhere, because regulations prohibit untreated firewood from being imported into New York State.

The rules also forbid untreated firewood from being moved more than 50 miles from its source.

In addition, suppliers said they’re dealing with a smaller and smaller pool of loggers, something Carlson’s group, with the aging of the industry workforce, is concerned about over the long term.

“There’s less and less logging going on,” said Vogt, of Custom Cordage in Cattaraugus County.

“It’s an expensive business to operate,” Vogt said. “It’s hard work, and working in the woods is one of the most hazardous jobs out there. Insurance cost is crazy. The fuel cost is out of sight.”

If by chance you do manage to find some firewood for sale, it may cost you more than you expect.

“I can’t do that to people,” Beattie said. “I’m not one of those gougers because demand outweighs supply. That’s not right in my book.”

Logs are delivered to Beattie’s Southern Tier Forest Products in Salamanca, where they’re cut, split and dried in a kiln, before the wood is packaged for sale.

His little “Bundles of Warmth” are then shipped to major retail outlets throughout the Northeast, including Tops, Valu Home Centers, Tripifoods and Lowes.

Last week, Beattie had about two truckloads’ worth of firewood warehoused, but the bundles already had been claimed.

There wasn’t a single log on his property to produce more kiln-dried firewood.

“I’ve had to turn down all kinds of business,” Beattie said. “I got nothing in my yard.”

Clay actually has quite a bit of firewood – cherry, beech, hickory, ash.

But, he explained, the 270 face cords stacked neatly at the entrance are being held for several restaurants that rely on Clay’s firewood to heat their brick ovens.

The rest, he said, was cut more recently and needs to dry so the wood ignites easier and burns hotter. Clay will let those piles sit and season for about a year, and he won’t start selling firewood again until at least April.

“Because of the short supply available this year, there unfortunately are people selling firewood when it’s not properly dried,” Clay said.

As for now, all Clay has to offer customers is a little advice.

“Don’t wait until September or October to get your firewood,” Clay said. “Get it in May or June.”

on October 1, 2014 – 5:34 PM

By Chris Pitts | Tagged with: | Leave a Comment


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply