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What Should a Park Do With "Surplus" Wood? Yellowstone National Park Has One Answer

stack of firewood

Photo by hobo via Flickr.

Any NPS area that has very many trees will occasionally face a dilemma: what to do with the wood that results from activities such as hazardous tree removal, wildland fire fuel reduction and similar work? Yellowstone National Park has one solution—firewood permits.

The park recently released the following details:

Yellowstone National Park will soon be accepting the names of individuals interested in receiving firewood collection permits during 2009. Excess firewood is periodically available in the park due to such events as wildland fire fuel mitigation, strong winds, construction projects, or hazard tree removal.

Individuals interested in applying for a permit are asked to call 307-344-2116 from March 27 through March 29 to leave their name and daytime telephone number. Permits will be issued in the order calls are received. The number of permits issued is dependent on the availability of wood. Successful applicants will be contacted as wood becomes available.

Permits cost $25 and allow the taking of up to three cords of wood. There is no guarantee that three cords will be available for each permittee. Specific site guidelines and regulations, including hours and dates of collection, will be explained as permits are issued.

For further information, please call the Visitor Services Office at 307-344-2107, during business hours.

Al Nash, Public Affairs Officer for Yellowstone, provided a little more information on the program.

The firewood permit program is a community friendly way to remove downed wood/trees that are the products of fuel reduction projects around developed areas and road corridors or hazard tree mitigation activities.

Such wood would otherwise be gathered and removed from the park or chipped. It's more economical to provide gathering opportunities for the wood burning public.

Firewood collecting for campfire purposes is a different activity that does not require a permit and allows the collection of dead and down wood for individual use in the park


This seems a logical solution which minimizes costs to the park (and taxpayers) and it sounds like Yellowstone has worked out the kinks experienced at some other parks with similar programs. However, some of you probably think you missed your calling, should have been a park superintendent, and have a better idea than the one described above.

Before you finalize your own plan, consider that the answer to the problem of "surplus wood" in national parks isn't always as easy as one might think.

Some might suggest keeping things simple by just making the wood from such projects available to anyone. No permit, no cost. Experience in at least one park found that some kind of permit system and monitoring is necessary to prevent an Oklahoma Land Rush-style free-for-all. If a park is going to devote the staff time to issue permits and monitor the process, the area might as well generate a little revenue to help offset those costs, and there are certainly safety and liability concerns for an unregulated "come and get it" approach.

Low-cost permits also provide the opportunity for the park to brief participants on the do's and don'ts of the program. I've personally run into problems in parks where visitors were allowed to gather "dead and down" wood for campfires (admittedly a different process than the current Yellowstone program), but the pitfalls are similar.

The problem? For some folks, "dead" apparently means any tree that doesn't currently have green leaves, which covers a lot of timber in the winter! An alibi for what constitutes "down" is a little more difficult to fabricate, but a permit briefing eliminates a lot of potential confusion.

Fans of natural processes might suggest just leaving downed timber on-site, where it will eventually decompose and return to the environment. A valid concept in some situations, but that's not always feasible for reasons of fire hazards or other safety concerns, especially in the developed area and roadside situations covered by Yellowstone's program.

I'm sure there are countless other scenarios, but the point is that in today's world, there are few easy answers to any problem. While you're coming up with you own plan, it sounds like Yellowstone has a good solution for this year.


Yellowstone's plan for surplus wood disposal sounds reasonable if the fees cover the administrative costs.
It's certainly preferrable to that of Olympic NP in the 80's & 90's. The large trees that fell across Park roads would be bucked to dumptruck length and stockpiled in the many utility areas (dumps). These windfalls would be put up for bid periodically. Apparently these sales were not very well advertised, because the Road Foreman's brother was almost always the one who showed up with a portable sawmill.

I received a firewood collection permit in 1999 and again in 2001. So what is so "new" about this policy?

Anonymous -

Sorry if I gave the impression the policy is "new." It was brought to my attention with the suggestion that the information isn't known to everyone, and therefore might be of interest to some readers.

If you ever camped in British Columbias' fine campsites, you will know that they have cut up wood, free for campers to use. What a nice idea. Too bad I have never seen it here in the states.

With the incredible amount of beetle killed tree available throughout SW Montana, I am not sure why someone would want to drive the extra distance into Yellowstone Park to get firewood.

Anonymous -

From a supply standpoint, you make a good point about the ready availability of beetle killed wood in SW Montana. However, I hope people will be cautious about hauling wood from any insect kill site, anywhere in the country. At least until the wood has been thoroughly dried and cured, and the insects have moved on, there's a risk of spreading the insects into areas that aren't already infested.

When I worked in the Big Thicket National Preserve in SE Texas years ago, that whole area was in the midst of a periodic outbreak of southern pine beetle, and there was a lot of salvage logging occurring on timber company and other private forests. When aerial photos were taken of the area as part of control efforts, it was not uncommon to see new "hot spots" of beetle activity show up right along the edge of roads where bug killed trees had been hauled out by truck.

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