If the first wave of crisp autumn air has you thinking about buying your firewood load to burn this winter, think again. Crimped by a wet spring and summer that kept loggers out of the woods, and on the heels of last year's long, hard winter that saw woodpiles dwindle to nothing, loggers and firewood suppliers say they just don't have any seasoned wood to sell this fall.
The shortage of wood has hit paper mills, too, with loggers unable to bring in their usual summer supply. Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of the Minnesota Timber Producers Association industry group, called the wood shortage "unprecedented." Wood supplies that dwindle annually in the spring, when conditions are too wet for loggers' equipment, never improved during the summer. "I can't recall any time where it's gone this long, over a pretty broad area, where they couldn't get into the woods. It just kept raining,'' Brandt said.
The industry called on state, federal and county land managers to check future timber sales for land that might be more accessible to log now. "They've helped a lot ... and things have improved a little in the last few weeks," Brandt said.
Mike Schultz, managing director of the Sappi Fine Paper mill in Cloquet, called it "one of the most challenging years that I can recall for wood procurement'' but said the mill has had enough to keep operating. "Our supplies are lower than we're comfortable with,'' he said. "But we haven't run out."
If you can find firewood for sale, you'll probably have to buy large quantities. And expect to pay more than in recent years -- probably about $200 per logger cord for delivered maple or oak, often with a three-cord minimum.
And the shortage of wood at mills has pushed up the price companies are willing to pay, luring loggers away from selling to firewood customers and instead taking it to the mills. "The mills have been paying us more, and it's a lot easier to deliver to their wood yards, so any wood the guys can get is going to the mills,'' Flannery said. "It's not leaving much for people to burn."