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You Don't Get Rich Selling Wood, But It Has Its Perks

Navajo Times, News report, Cindy Yurth Posted: Dec 20, 2008

CHINLE - It's a common sight all over the Navajo Nation this time of year: bundled-up men standing beside a pickup truck full of neatly sliced logs, usually cedar or pion.

If you're in the parking lot of the Tsyi' shopping center, you might encounter local chizhmonger Arnold Harvey, waiting for somebody to pay $65 for his pickup-load of firewood.

It's a trade that involves a lot of waiting, so Harvey doesn't mind when his cousin, Dean James, notices his truck and stops by to shoot the breeze.

And he never worries about whether or not he'll have a customer.

"It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours," he said. "Somebody always buys it."

Harvey cuts the wood at his family's ranch in Tsaile, Ariz. It takes him about half an hour to fill the back of his pickup, 45 minutes to drive to Chinle, and another half-hour to three hours of waiting for a customer.

It's not great money, but it's a good life.

"I like doing it," he shrugged.

It's a job, says Harvey, that didn't exist a generation ago. Back then, families cut their own wood.
These days, "People have other jobs," Harvey said.

"And people don't have chainsaws," James pitched in. "And they don't know how to use an ax."

While some of the old folks lament that trees are scarcer than back in their day, Navajo Nation forest officer Roger Peshlakai said there's still plenty of wood to heat Din Bikyah's generally small, far-flung houses.

"As long as you see us doing controlled burns, that means there's actually a surplus of dead and downed trees in the forest," he said.

While there are certainly renegade wood poachers among the Din, Peshlakai's experience is that most folks are concerned about the health of the forest and abide by the rules.

And the rules are not that hard to abide by.


Stop by the Navajo Nation Forestry Department - or, in some cases, your local chapter house - and you can get a one-dollar permit that entitles you to two loads of dead or downed wood in one month.
For $5, you can cut live trees, as people do when building a hogan the traditional way.

The only rule as to where to cut is that it must be on Navajo Nation trust land and you must stay 200 feet from a home or major road.

Those who intend to sell the wood must pay $5 per load and sell it within five days. When buying a load of wood, always ask the seller to give you his permit. That way if a ranger stops you, you can prove the harvest was legit.

Senior citizens (59 and over) who intend to burn the wood in their own homes can get a permit for free.
Generally cutting wood for resale is prohibited after Dec. 31, but if the supply is looking good and it's looking to be a long winter, the Forestry Department may extend the deadline, Peshlakai said.

This time of year, folks who want a live Christmas tree can cut one for a $5 permit ($7.50 for non-Navajos). Permitted species include pion, juniper, Douglas fir or corkbark fir.

While Peshlakai monitors the chizh harvest, he doesn't partake himself, and can't say how long a load of wood lasts the average family.

"I have an electric heater, and my parents have a pellet stove," he said.

One less potential customer for Harvey.

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