Of the Baker City Herald

Firewood cutters who own small stoves, or who burn wood only to supplement a furnace, will need to spend a bit more money to keep their toes toasty next winter.

When the woodcutting season starts May 1, 2003, the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest will require even small-scale cutters to buy permits for at least four cords, up from the current requirement of two cords.

That will boost the minimum firewood bill from $10 to $20 (the per cord price remains $5), said Kerry Sherman, fuelwood coordinator for the Wallowa-Whitman.

Woodcutters will not be able to hold on to unfilled permits, Sherman said.

For example, if you buy the minimum four cords but cut only two, you can't use the permit for the remaining two cords the next year, she said.

The current two-cord minimum remains in effect through Nov. 30, when this year's woodcutting season ends on the forest.

andquot;This is a busy time of the year for people trying to get their wood supply before the cutting season ends or the snow closes roads at higher elevation,andquot; Sherman said.

The adjacent Umatilla and Malheur national forests have enacted the same four-cord minimum for 2003, Sherman said.

The change was mandated by officials at Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., she said, not by local employees.

andquot;We really have no choice in the matter,andquot; Sherman said.

Several national forests in the Northwest already charge woodcutters a $20 minimum, she said, although many forests accomplish that by charging $10 per cord but leaving the minimum purchase at two cords.

Although the Wallowa-Whitman does not have detailed statistics, Sherman said the average woodcutting purchase on the forest is about 3 cords.

Most woodcutters buy permits for just two cords to start, but many of them return to buy additional permits, Sherman said.

andquot;It's easy to go through two cords, especially for people who use only wood for heat,andquot; she said.

Sherman herself is among the woodcutters who will be affected by the Wallowa-Whitman's new rules.

She said she uses her stove only to bolster her natural gas-burning furnace, and thus does not cut more than the current two-cord minimum.

Sherman's situation is not uncommon among Baker City woodcutters, said Vern Knapp, owner of Elk Creek Enterprises, a local chain saw shop.

Knapp said many of his customers cut no more than two cords per year.

andquot;A four-cord minimum sounds kind of steep,andquot; he said. andquot;There's a lot of (woodcutters) that don't need four cords.andquot;

Sherman said she understands that the new rules could pose a hardship for some people. She said Wallowa-Whitman officials recognize that for some woodcutters an extra $10 is significant; that's the main reason they decided to announce the coming change several months in advance, she said.

andquot;We're hoping this won't be too big an impact on folks,andquot; Sherman said.

The Wallowa-Whitman does not plan to change woodcutting rules in any other way.

The current maximum of 10 cords per household per year will remain in effect.

However, people who want to cut more than 10 cords can buy additional Forest Product Sale permits (also known as commercial fuelwood permits) at $10 per cord, Sherman said.

She also reminds woodcutters that they're not allowed to fell live trees for firewood.

Cutting dead trees of any species except ponderosa pine, whether standing or down, is allowed along most open roads.

andquot;Woodcutters need to be extra careful not to cut live trees, especially in the fall,andquot; Sherman said. andquot;Western larch (tamarack) trees drop their needles and this gives the appearance of a dying or dead tree.andquot;

All other conditions and restrictions that woodcutters need to know are included in the Wallowa-Whitman's Fuelwood Guide, which is distributed along with each firewood permit.

Firewood permits are available at Forest Service offices and at several businesses in the area, including The Gold Post in Sumpter, The Outback at Granite, and the Unity Country Store.

Woodcutters can call local firewood information lines for recorded messages after office hours and on weekends. The phone numbers are: 523-1234 in Baker City, 541/962-8679 in La Grande, and 541/426-5552 in Enterprise.