Monday, April 20, 2015

Thinking About Firewood

A cord of firerwood measures 4x4x8.
After a colder than normal winter in the Northeast, the last thing you want to think about is firewood. But now is the time to turn your thoughts to next winter and start caching your wood. Burning unseasoned, or worse green, wood is problematic because you lose heat, you create more smoke, and you increase unwanted fire risk as residues collect in venting systems.
Some pundits are suggesting that heating with wood is experiencing another surge in popularity. The last big turn to wood was in the 1970s following the oil embargo. Then, the focus was on woodstoves inside the house, where many found comfort in intense warmth. At the same time, many learned about the puffs of smoke, the never ending sweeping up of sawdust, bits of bark, and ashes after the inevitable cleaning. Today, you increasingly see outdoor heaters standing outside or with their short chimney poking up through a tin roof of the small shelter some erect over the stove to protect it and the wood pile. Other times you first notice the blue-gray smoke wafting across the yard and look around for the source.

Smoke is a concern with wood heating. Wood smoke is full of chemicals that threaten our health and the air we breathe. Smoke and wood are like soup and sandwich, they come together; however, with planning and forethought it is possible to reduce the amount of smoke. Without getting too technical, smoke contains four parts: particles such as ash, unburned volatiles, carbon compounds (think carbon dioxide), and water.

You might still be wondering if there is enough to get through the last few weeks, but now is the time to turn your thoughts to next winter. It will be here before you know it and you want to have dry wood ready. Burning unseasoned, or worse green, wood is not a good idea because you lose heat (which means you need more wood to heat the house), you create more smoke, and you increase unwanted fire risk as residues collect in venting systems.

Tre-axel load.
When firewood has high water content, full combustion does not happen until the moisture is driven off. When wood is wet, the fire smolders and the heavy blue smoke is full of water and chemicals. You can smell the difference; it is acrid and harsh. When dry wood burns in a woodstove with adequate air flow (not a dampered down, smoldering fire), the volatiles burn. On the other hand, when wood is wet, even with adequate air flow, the fire still tends to smolder as the water driven off by slow combustion cools the fire. In this case, there is no flame and lots of smoke. It takes heat to drive off that excess moisture and that heat is lost as the moisture vapor carries it up the chimney. The wetter the wood, the more difficult it is to burn.

The conventional wisdom is that firewood in our climate should be cut, split, and covered for at least nine months to a year before burning. By doing this the wood will have time to lose water due to evaporation and will approach equilibrium moisture content, which for Pennsylvania is around 16 to 20 percent. Achieving this desirable dryness takes time and work. Ideally, it would be great to have a two year supply of wood at the ready at the beginning of each heating season. At the least, you should be working on next year’s wood right now and have it stacked and ready to go by mid-fall.

Cut, split, and stacked is the admonition. Split wood to expose as much surface as possible and to reduce the cross-section so it loses water more quickly. Stacking takes space and is not a haphazard process. Ideally wood stacks should be under roof or at least covered, but in a way that moisture laden air can escape – covering with a tarp that traps water is not the best solution. To encourage drying elevate the stack on runners or pallets. This allows air to move up through the stack. Expose the stack to air and sun, which further accelerates drying. As the fall approaches, if you “smack” dried pieces together, you will hear the tonal difference. Dry wood nearly rings when ready.

Heating with wood provides great exercise, a sense of pride, a different level of comfort; however, it takes time and commitment. For your health’s sake, make sure you are burning dry wood. If you are splitting the wood right before it goes into the stove, or worst yet, burning it in the round all the time, you are likely wasting heat by sending water and volatiles up the chimney and creating more smoke than necessary. Burning dry wood saves money and reduces smoke. Cut your wood now. Follow the safety rules, and get ready for next winter. It comes around every year.

By Dr. Jim Finley
March 31, 2015

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

US Fish and Wildlife Service Designates Northern Long-Eared Bat as "Threatened" (April 1): The US Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it is protecting the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This is primarily due to the threat posed by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated many bat species populations.

At the same time, the FWS issued an interim special rule that eliminates unnecessary regulatory requirements for landowners, land managers, government agencies, and others in the range of the northern long-eared bat. The public is invited to comment on this interim rule as the FWS considers whether modifications or exemptions for additional categories of activities should be included in 4(d) rule that will be finalized by the end of the calendar year. The FWS is accepting public comments on the proposed rule until July 1, 2015 and may make revisions based on additional information it receives.

“In making this decision, we reviewed the best available scientific information on the northern long-eared bat, including information gathered from more than 100,000 public comments,” said the Service’s Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “We are listing this species because a disease – white-nose syndrome – is spreading and decimating its populations. We designed the 4(d) rule to provide appropriate protection within the area where the disease occurs for the remaining individuals during their most sensitive life stages, but to otherwise eliminate unnecessary regulation.”

The listing becomes effective on May 4, 2015, 30 days after publication of the final listing determination in the Federal Register.

To read the full story click here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Penn State Renewable Natural Resources Extension April 2015 Webinars

View from Loyalsock State Forest Old Logging Path

Below is the listing of the Penn State Renewable Natural Resources Extension Team’s April webinars.  Please be sure to share this with others who might be interested.

Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: Penn State Center’s Stormwater Mitigation Initiatives in Pittsburgh, April 13, 2015, 12 p.m. ET. Presented by Lisa Kunst Vavro, Sustainable Environments Manager, The Penn State Center in Pittsburgh.

PA Forest Stewardship Webinar: Forest Soils, April 14, 2015, noon and 7 p.m. ET.
This webinar will present some fundamentals of forest soils and how they impact tree growth and forest health. Topics include: site index, soil texture, soil moisture, erosion, and harvesting impacts on soils. In addition, the use of on-line soil surveys will be explored. Presented by Rick Stehouwer, Professor of Environmental Soil Science, Penn State Department of Ecosystem Science and Management. Approved for 1 credit hour Pennsylvania SFI® CE. Approved for 1.0 Society of American Foresters CFE credit, Category 1-CF.

Northeast Woody/Warm-Season Biomass Consortium Webinar: Potential Economic Impact of Renewable Fuels and Sustainable Biomass Feedstock in Pennsylvania, April 14, 1 p.m. ET.
There has been much interest in using renewable fuels and sustainable biomass feedstock for ethanol production. This webinar will highlight a recent analysis of the potential economic impacts if sustainable biomass-based ethanol producing plants were built in Pennsylvania. The study examined four potential locations (Berks, Bradford, Crawford, and Washington counties) and three potential cellulosic feedstocks, including miscanthus, switchgrass, and willow. The analysis suggests that such a plant directly and indirectly could support between 235 and 364 jobs and generate between $87.8 million to $120.7 million in new output, depending upon its location and feedstock. Join us live to find out much more! Presented by Timothy W. Kelsey, Penn State University.

Penn State Extension Green Infrastructure Webinar Series: The Ecology of Streams and Forested Buffers, April 28, 2015, noon ET. Presented by Bernard W. Sweeney, Ph.D., President and Director, Stroud Water Research Center.

Water Resources Webinar: Harmful Algae Blooms in Pennsylvania Ponds and Lakes, Wednesday, April 29, 12 – 1 p.m. ET. Presented by Bryan Swistock, Penn State University.

We look forward to having you join these discussions and learning experiences.

New York Future of Forests Symposium

I wanted to share with you information about a symposium being pulled together by the New York Forest Owners Association on April 25, 2015. They are presenting on a variety of topics assessing the capacity of current knowledge, techniques, and policies, to ensure the regeneration of native forests. The symposium topics are relevant beyond the State of New York and most certainly relevant to Pennsylvania. To get more information and to register click here. The symposium is being hosted by the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. The cost is only $15.00 to attend and registrations are taken online.

Who Should Attend?
Any business associated with the forest products industry, environmental organizations, land trusts, maple syrup producers, consulting foresters, farmers whose agricultural interests are impacted by deer, those who value healthy & diverse woodlands as bird and wildlife habitat, organizations interested in forest recreation, including hunting, businesses dependent on tourism, state, county and municipal park authorities, state legislators and the media.