LEBANON, N.H. - Rising energy prices are driving up demand for cord wood and creating a shortage in some areas of northern New England.
Firewood sellers say they can't keep up.
"Right now I'm refusing work," said Bob Baker. "I had one customer who wanted 14 cords of tree-length wood. I said, 'Good luck.' "
Baker, a retiree from Ryegate, Vt., has been running a small-scale firewood operation for six years on his land. He estimates that he is running about 30 cords behind.
In Orford, N.H., Stacey Thomson worries about having to turn away new customers. Karl Nott of Hartford, Vt., eagerly awaits his next shipment of felled trees.
Dealers and timber industry specialists attribute the firewood shortage partly to competition. Paper mills in Maine and Quebec are offering about $180 a cord for pulp logs that make good kindling, according to Stephen Long of Corinth, Vt., cofounder and co-editor of Northern Woodlands magazine.
That makes it tougher for local vendors to find wholesale supplies, he says.
Woodcutters also say the demand is coming at what normally is a slower time of year for production and sales.
"Peak buying is normally in March and April, and this year the panic started in June," said Sarah Smith, a forest industry specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. "This is a different dynamic, and [sellers] weren't ready. They have a sort of rhythm, and this year it just got blown out of the water."
Smith predicted that the unseasonable run would eventually settle down over the summer, but with fuel oil remaining above $4 a gallon, local vendors do not expect orders to ebb.
Last week, Vermont expanded Wood Warms, a fuel assistance program that encourages wood use through cut-your-own initiatives on public lands and firewood vouchers for low- and moderate-income households.
Maine's ongoing program to sell firewood to permit holders who cut and remove the wood from public lands is seeing a spike in popularity this year, the Department of Conservation said. At this time in 2007, the department had sold 11 permits for 86 cords of firewood. To date this year, it's sold 50 permits for 353 cords of firewood. Additional sales are expected in the coming weeks, the department said.
Anticipated high fuel prices are a concern all over northern New England.
"There's no question this is going to be a hard winter for people because of the demand," said Stacey Thomson, who runs Thomson Timber Harvesting and Trucking in Orford. "It's not even a question of how much it costs for wood pellets or firewood, so much as if they're even available."