In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 1:13 PM on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

fall's chill means woodcutting time

In our own backyard


Frost on the windshield, leaves turning yellow and the smell of smoke drifting on the air. Ayup, for many lower Kenai Peninsula residents, that can only mean one thing: It's woodcutting time.


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Janosh Kirk, left, and Guy Douglas, right, cut firewood at the Baycrest Hill spruce-bark beetle kill mitigation area on Monday.

While a homeowner with a good woodpile wants to think a year or two ahead to season and dry wood, as the days get colder and the ground gets harder, many sharpen their chainsaws, get out their earmuffs, boots, chaps and eye protection and start looking for big dry beetle-killed spruce to cut up. Fortunately, as part of fire reduction programs, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Alaska Division of Forestry offer several areas where those using wood heat can cut their own firewood.

You know the old adage about firewood: It warms you twice, once when you work muscles to cut it and once when it burns. Woodcutters will be warming their muscles well over the next several months.

A personal-use site offered by the borough opens soon at the Diamond Creek site near Mile 167.5 Sterling Highway across from Diamond Ridge Road. Part of the Diamond Creek State Park Recreation Area, access is on an old subdivision road winding down from the road to a trailhead to Diamond Creek beach. This month contractors hauled in gravel to improve the road. Paul Roderick of Paul's Services, the same contractor who worked on the Baycrest Hill firewood site a year ago, has been felling and limbing beetle-killed spruce trees in preparation for the firewood offering. As with the Baycrest Hill offering, it will be permitted, cut-your-own firewood under the supervision of a firewood marshal (see box, this page, for hours and details).


Kenai Peninsula Borough Diamond Creek Personal Use Firewood site

Mile 167.5 Sterling Highway (across from Diamond Ridge Road)

9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday starting Oct. 9

Narrow road; no trailers or heavy trucks

Hutler Road Personal Use Firewood site

To be announced once ice road set in January


Kenai Peninsula Borough Annex

206 E. Pioneer Ave., 235-8840

8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, closed 1-2 p.m. for lunch

For more information visit

Alaska Division of Forestry Personal Use Firewood site

Mile 17.1 East End Road

For permits and more information, visit

As it turns out, while this is a good time to cut firewood, it's also a good time to clear forests of standing dead trees, said Michael Fastabend, coordinator of the Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Program running the firewood offering. By exposing soil before the snow falls, spruce cones have a better chance of setting seed, creating a new forest instead of fields of bluejoint grass. The spruce cone crop this year was especially good, he said.

"For spruce to regenerate, it needs to land on exposed dirt," Fastabend said.

Roderick's contract calls for him to limb and cut dead trees and evaluate decay. Those good enough for firewood will be set aside as logs to be cut up. Rotten wood is left on the ground for nursery trees. Limbs and slash are cut up into 12 inches.

"The logs themselves provide numerous ecological benefits," Fastabend said of the rotten trees. "They act as resting places for new seedlings."

Roderick also lays the slash out on the ground to make what old-timers call corduroy roads to drive heavy equipment over. In the process, the slash gets chopped up more and the ground protected. The contractor curves the logged side roads away from the main road to minimize visual impacts, too, Fastabend said.

With the heavy fuels removed as firewood and the slash ground up, it also reduces the wildfire risk.

"That way if we should see some kind of ground fire, it decreases the chance it will evolve into a crown fire," Fastabend said.

Diamond Creek was identified through community wildfire protection plans as an area of concern, Fastabend said.

"We're hoping it's going to be a great project and takes out a lot of fuels in the valley that leads all the way up Diamond Ridge," he said. "It would be a bad place to get a fire started."

Another firewood site will be offered off Greer Road once an ice road goes in. That firewood is inaccessible right now because of swampy conditions, but should be open to woodcutting in January.

The Alaska Division of Forestry also offers woodcutting near Mile 17.5 East End Road and also off Silverberry Avenue near the Old Sterling Highway in Anchor Point. Both areas require state permits available only online (see box, this page). The Silverberry Avenue site is rough and is recommended for ATVs, said John Winters of State Forestry, Soldotna.

Because the Diamond Creek area is a popular hiking site, it's closed to woodcutting on Sundays and Mondays, Fastabend said. The road is narrow and no heavy equipment or trailers should be used.

The Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Program was funded with $19 million in federal and other grants since 1999 and is now nearing the end of its budget. The program did get $1 million for Homer Electric Association to clear hazard trees out of powerline easements but on private property. HEA is identifying areas of concern based on power outages — good information it's acquired the hard way with recent fall storms — and will work on clearing over the next year.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at