Forest Service Offers Free Wood

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On one hand, we have 16,000 shivering Payson residents stunned by $400 propane heating bills.

On the other hand, we have endless piles of wood cut to create a firebreak around that same town.

Does one have anything to do with the other?

That question lurks behind an innovative offer by the Payson Ranger District to let at least 40 residents gather up, for free, a full cord of oak, pine and juniper from one of the slash piles in Round Valley off 412 Road.

The Forest Service decided to offer the free wood on an experimental basis, shortly after the Arizona Corporation Commission held a hearing in Payson to let residents complain about soaring winter propane bills. As it happens, the Forest Service just finished paying $600 per acre to cut down thousands of stunted trees to create a firebreak around Payson.

Crews cut about half the trees and brush in the treated areas and piled up the wood in huge mounds that totaled about 30 to 50 tons per acre. Brush accounted for half the pile, but crews also piled burnable lengths of juniper and pine atop the mounds.

Ordinarily, the crews would let the wood dry out and burn it late next winter. But the foresters instead decided to see whether propane traumatized Payson residents might jump at the chance for a free pickup bed loaded with wood. Rangers hope people will load the burnable trunks and branches without scattering the slash pile, which crews will eventually burn.

The rangers will hand out permits and maps pinpointing the slash piles off 412 Road on a first-come, first-serve basis between April 9 and May 26 at the district office on Highway 260. For information call (928_ 474-7900.

The district normally charges $25 for a wood gathering permit, which allows residents to gather four cords of oak and juniper and also offers free permits to gather deadwood from pine.

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