‘Seasoned’ wood in short supply

NW dd41 PHOTO for fire wood supply storyBy Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Some local firewood suppliers say that there is a shortage of seasoned firewood, and green is all that is to be had.

But, there is no shortage of people hoping to purchase a dry cord for their woodstoves.

“Customers call every day, asking for seasoned firewood,” said Jerry Bowes, the owner of Lakes Region Firewood Sales.

The Casco-based business has more than 800 regular clients who, as early as possible, purchase cords of wood for their winter heating needs.

“All of our regular customers are smart people who ordered in the spring and early summer,” Bowes said.

“The people calling in the fall are the people buying green wood,” he said.

In fact, Bowes and his crew have not seen a cord of seasoned wood since June.

“Some of the smaller guys are going out of business because they cannot get their hands on the raw material,” Bowes said.

Philip Morton operates Red’s Firewood that has been in Naples for decades. He said he would love to get his hands on 100 cords of seasoned firewood.

“I have had a lot of calls for seasoned wood,” Morton said, adding he has to inform people that he only has green wood for sale.

“Most people wait too long. It’s a money issue. If you live here in Maine, your expenses are higher in the winter,” Morton said.

So, like most suppliers in the region, green wood is what is being delivered.

“I get calls every day,” he said.

Is it likely his price per cord will go up once winter hits?

“It could if the demand is there. It won’t go down much — I tell you that,” he said.

“The supply of seasoned firewood was kind of limited to begin with,” he said.

“We had maybe 20 to 25 cords of seasoned wood,” he said.

Previous customers started getting phone calls from Red’s Firewood this spring to see if they wanted to get on the list to have seasoned wood delivered.

The cold winter that Mainers experienced last year is not the primary reason for the shortage, he said.

“The paper mills took so much wood. A lot of it went up to Boise (Cascade Corporation) and International Paper and Sappi (Fine Paper North America.) But, they aren’t making paper. Good hardwood going into power - that is kind of what is going on,” Morton said.

“If you find any dry wood, call me back,” he half-joked during a phone interview.

Bowes also cited purchases by pulp mills as a factor in the low supplies of “quality” home-heating wood.

“The mills are buying as much as they possibly can for the mills” and “for biomass to make electricity,” Bowes said.

He said the paper mills can only burn green wood; but that is wood that could have been seasoned in another six months.

John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the availability of dry firewood can vary from county to county.

“In Southern Maine, there could be a shortage of firewood; but, in Aroostook County, there isn’t a problem,” he said.

He thought that people’s response to the previous winter’s weather has played a factor in any scarcity of dry wood in the region.

“Last season, as cold as it was, the consumption of all heating (methods) was up,” he said.

“People were told to stock up this spring. If they went through two cords last year, they ordered four cords this year,” Bott said.

Certainly, the owners of pellet stoves can turn to adequate stocks of that wood-based fuel in the stores. However, the pellets from Maine are in low supply, leaving stores to rely on getting that product from Canada.

According to Kitty Walsh, the assistant manager at the Paris Farmers Union in Bridgton, the store sells bags of pellets manufactured in this state.

“We do sell Maine Woods, Maine Choice and Corinth. The Maine-made pellets are now in very limited supply,” she said.

“We haven’t been able to get tractor-trailer loads, but only a limited supply.

“I don’t understand why they are in limited supply,” she said, adding the distributers haven’t been able to explain the reason sufficiently to her.

However, no worries for pellet stove owners living in Maine because there have not been any delays in ordering pellets that come from Canada, she said.

“Paris Farmers Union has been very diligent in trying to keep that product for our customers. We try very hard to have pellets when other places haven’t had them,” she said.

And, since this summer, customers have been buying pellets — by the bag or by the ton — in preparation for winter, she said.

A few folks took advantage of the reduced prices offered in the spring and early summer, she said. But, sales have really picked up since summer ended.

“Mostly, it started up at the beginning of September. Lots of people have brought several tons of pellets,” she said.

“My delivery driver goes out three to four times a week, and it usually takes most of an 8-hour shift. He offloads two to six tons per delivery,” Walsh said.

Eleven tons in one day has been the biggest delivery this autumn, she said. The store has delivered pellets to points as far away as Scarborough and Madison, N.H.

And, nobody is complaining.

“I think people are pleased with pellet stoves. Some are very pleased,” she said.

“People who have bought pellet stoves are pleased to use renewable resources to heat their homes” as opposed to fuel or kerosene, she said.

As those people who fall into the category of a Johnny-come-lately order the fuel for their wood stoves, those suppliers are straight out.

According to Lakes Region Firewood owner Bowes, “This has been the busier year.”

“We cannot keep firewood in stock. It’s crazy. It goes as fast as we get it,” he said.

 

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