Alaska Division of Forestry opens up personal-use woodcutting on thousands of acres of state land
As part of an ongoing spruce bark beetle outbreak in Southcentral Alaska, a silver lining has emerged: Alaskans may now receive permits to harvest beetle-killed timber from select state lands as firewood for personal use. In addition to keeping homes warm, removing the buildup of dead wood will help prevent forest fires and encourage new growth.
Over the past 35 years, spruce beetle outbreaks in Alaska have contributed to the loss of an estimated 3 billion board feet of timber. The insects have historically fed and bred on wind-thrown, fallen or injured spruce trees. A large, downed spruce tree may contain more than 100 beetles per square foot of bark. When conditions are right, beetle populations may outgrow the supply of downed trees and move into nearby living trees.
Small populations of spruce bark beetles are always present in Alaska spruce forests. Most of the time, the numbers are kept low by colder winters, but when conditions are right, spruce beetles may suddenly increase to epidemic numbers. The right conditions include an abundance of breeding material accompanied by an extremely dry summer.
In the 1990s, beetle populations increased dramatically, leading to the infestation of nearly 5 million acres of timber across Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. From 1997 to 2002, CIRI harvested 16,000 acres of beetle-killed timber on the Kenai Peninsula. Infestation numbers were greatly reduced in following years due multiple agencies participating in timber harvesting on the Kenai Peninsula.
The current outbreak is killing trees across Southcentral Alaska as far north as the Alaska Range. In the summer of 2018, nearly 600,000 acres of spruce beetle damage was mapped—the largest amount of acreage recorded since 1997, when aerial detection surveys began.
“Allowing the public to harvest affected timber aids in protecting valuable timber from infestation and wildland fire hazards,” said Heidi Hansen, director, CIRI Land and Resources. “However, the transportation and storage of affected firewood can significantly increase infestation rates, so it’s important for the public to first become familiar with safe harvesting practices. For example, in 2018, spruce beetle flight activity was highest in June, which should be a consideration when transporting harvested timber.”
Transportation and Storage of Affected Firewood
To prevent the spread of infestation to valuable, unaffected stands, Alaskans are strongly encouraged to use caution and follow guidelines for transportation and storage of infested timber.
For information on the condition of spruce firewood and ways to reduce beetle populations, visit forestry.alaska.gov/insects/sprucebeetle.
Firewood Harvesting Permits
Firewood cutting on any state land requires a permit, available at local state forestry division offices or at the division’s website at dnr.alaska.gov/FPS. The permit costs $10 per cord of wood, with a three-cord minimum and a 10-cord maximum per year. Areas where cutting is allowed are marked with signs, and the limits of allowable cutting areas are flagged with surveyor’s tape.
To harvest firewood on CIRI land, an application must be submitted and approved. Apply for a harvest permit at www.cirilandpermit.com/permit.
Tips to Help Prevent Wildfires
Wildfires can burn acres of land—and consume everything in their paths—in mere minutes. Although fire is a part of the natural environmental cycle, four out of five wildfires are started by people. The CIRI Land and Resources department asks that campers and outdoor enthusiasts keep the following wildfire prevention and safety tips in mind this summer:
- Familiarize yourself with local and state fire regulations and burn bans in your area. In Alaska:
- Recently passed legislation carries criminal consequences for negligent burning.
- Burn permits are required between April 1 and Aug. 31 for open burning, with the exception of campfires smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet.
- Recreational vehicle (motorhomes, trailers, campervans, etc.) users should ensure spark arrestors are in good working condition.
- Use existing campfire sites wherever possible.
- Choose a campfire location a safe distance from overhead branches.
- Check local weather reports and don’t burn during dry, windy periods.
- Have sufficient tools and water on site to control the fire.
- Never leave a campfire unattended.
- Take care in ensuring campfires are fully extinguished.
- Call 911 immediately if there is a wildland fire emergency.
More detailed information on recreational use fire safety can be found at www.alaskacenters.gov/trip-planning/stewardship.