There are few sights more comforting than a stack of split wood. And there are few more cheering times than toasting the feet by an open fire or wood heater. The wind howls, the rain beats a rhythm on the roof and the soup simmers on the stove. But who once sheltered in that tree you’re now burning?
Now don’t turn to the next page not wanting to feel guilty. Let’s explore the most eco-friendly way to load up the wood shed this winter. It’s possible to have a cosy bum-warm without being responsible for a family of hypothermic Feather-tailed Gliders waiting in a sub-zero housing queue.
There’s a lot more to a pile of seasoned, dry firewood than meets the eye and wood hunting should be done all year round, not just as the cold starts. Even surrounded by a sea of trees here in East Gippsland, wood getting still requires a number of things to be considered:
- Wood that is up off the ground or lying high and dry on top of a ridge or spur is usually dryer than on south slopes or in gullies.
- Make sure ants or termites have not claimed the wood and dragged sand and grit into the wood to build their nests. This makes your chainsaw’s chain history.
- Charred wood will also ruin a good chain , but you can axe surface charcoal off though.
- Determine if a dead tree is seasoned. It can take a tree a good few years for the sap to dry out of the trunk. Check the head - if there are small twigs hanging on, it's still too green. These trees are perfect to fall and roughly chop to store for next year’s wood supply.
- Chose an area that’s easy to access like on the side of a track. Bashing a small scale logging road in to get to a tree or falling a tree into thick understorey is best avoided.
- And here’s the most important point to consider - trees with hollows are rare and sacred! Please leave them! They are much sought-after real estate out there – especially as the 2014 fires (and associated management) took out thousands of hollow-bearing trees. The tiniest tea-cup sized hollow can be a nesting site for small possums like feather tailed gliders as well as birds and small bat species.
If we think there’s a housing crisis going on, the wildlife that depend on these hollows like owls and gliders, are in a far worse situation. Hollows are scarce everywhere across the country, and this wildlife housing crisis in Victoria is made worse by the new ‘hazardous trees’ policy. Big old habitat trees that have raised many owl chicks and glider families in their generous hollows have been and are still being knocked down on a massive scale right across the state. Hundreds more are annually burnt out and fall after planned burns and bushfires.
Tree hollows are now critical habitat - even ground dwellers need fallen logs to shelter in or under.
Live young trees don’t have anywhere near the habitat value as older trees.
Storage is a big part of eco-friendly firewood getting. If you plan ahead, you can salvage live trees that are wind thrown or pushed over in road works or on house sites. Cut to size, then roughly chop and store it for a couple of years. The wood is ready when the ends have shrunk and cracked. Larger fruit tree prunings make good firewood as well after they’ve been seasoned. If you hit one piece of wood onto another, a dry length of wood should make a clack sound rather than a dull clunk. You’ll get an ear for how each species sounds when ready to go.
Storing wood means you can hunt for wood all year round. Another huge advantage of storing is that you get more heat energy per unit of wood. Dry seasoned wood doesn’t waste precious kilojoules steaming the water or sap off before giving out heat. Old water tanks are great as firewood shelters, especially facing north. They make it easier to cover and protect in a fire and if you have lots of old tanks you can have a filing system for different lengths, species and time since being stacked.
But the best way to plan for a low impact secure firewood future is to grow your own. Black wattles are often shunned but they do produce good, hot burning wood. Grow whatever trees best suit your site.
A good wood stack is as satisfying as a well-stocked wine or preserves cellar. And best of all is that when that rain is pelting down outside, you’ll know your dry socks didn’t cost a family of gliders their home.