Help Your Trees By Burning Firewood

| 4/15/2015 10:56:00 AM

Winter’s over or at least it seems that way. The grass is beginning to green-up in places, spring peepers are singing, and the daffodils are growing well too. If you’ve been burning firewood to stay warm through the cold winter, perhaps the last thing you want to handle is more wood. However, now is the best time to procure and secure firewood. Firewood, unlike other heating sources is not a friend of procrastination. When the two hang out, they often lead to more work or higher prices, smokier chimneys, and colder houses.

Home heating is a significant cost for those living in the Catskills, Hudson Valley and New York State. Residents that are able to save on this cost will have more money to allocate towards other things: home improvement projects, planting fruit trees inside a deer exclosure, building a greenhouse, or even buying healthier food. Currently, the predominant choices for home heating are electric, fuel oil, kerosene, natural gas, or wood.

Farm Abandonment and Forest Regrowth

Trees are by far the most renewable energy resource for home-heating in our region. As a Forester and Arborist, there are plenty of trees; they may not be where we want them or as healthy as we’d like, but they are there nonetheless. Contrary to what some may perceive, forests in New York State are growing two to three times faster than they are being harvested. The misperception probably is derived from the fact that most of the state’s residents originate from more populated regions where development is all too familiar. In upstate New York, farm abandonment occurred throughout the 20th century. Although sunlight is no longer used to fatten cows upon lush pastures for butter and milk, its energy is being stored in other ways; wood.

The wood I burn today is mostly a product of farm abandonment from the late 1960s and early 1970s. In general, many of these trees are those that cannot tolerate shade or competition with other trees for sunlight very well. Black cherry, black birch, white birch, and poplar (aspen) are good examples. Farms that were abandoned longer ago may have more shade-intermediate tree species growing: red oak, white oak, white ash, yellow birch, and white pine. Farms that were abandoned even longer ago – perhaps on rocky soils in more mountainous terrain – may have more shade-tolerant species: sugar maple, American beech, yellow birch, and eastern hemlock. One should remember that shade tolerances are not necessarily preferences. Almost all trees prefer well-drained soils that receive plenty of sunlight. However, it’s a tree’s tolerance to adverse conditions that give them a competitive advantage over another that lead to their success and abundance in a particular area. So, what does this have to do with firewood?

Burning Wood for Healthier Forests

As previously mentioned, New York State has lots of trees, but quantity should not be confused with quality. Yes, poor quality trees can still give you lots of firewood, but cutting the right trees in the right place can lead to healthier trees and forests. How is that?

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