Yes, collecting dead wood is legal depending on how you use the wood, and whether or not you plan to remove the wood from the area. As long as you use the wood for your own campfire purposes, it’s legal. Problems generally occur when you transport the wood out of the area, or use the wood for commercial purposes.
Is Collecting Dead Wood Legal?
Collecting dead wood can be legal or illegal depending on what you do with it and where you take it. As long as you’re using it for your own campfire purposes, and you burn it at your campsite, it is 100% legal in most cases.
Where it’s illegal is if you transport the wood outside of the area, like taking it back home, or selling it to others. In that case, you generally need a permit or authorization from the area in charge.
Collecting Dead Wood is Legal for Your Own Campfire Purposes
Most all federal land management agencies allow you to collect “dead and down” wood for purposes of building a campfire. As long as you burn the wood at your campsite, you can collect and burn as much wood as you want.
However, if you want to transport the wood back to your home, they will require you to obtain a permit or prior-authorization. All national forests have a permit policy in place that issues firewood permits for the purposes of transporting wood outside of the forest. Other land management agencies such as the BLM, the Army Corps of Engineers, etc, will require you to contact their local agency in charge if you want to move wood outside of their area.
For more reading on this subject see, “Rules for Collecting Firewood for Camping“.
Collecting Dead Wood for Other Purposes
If your goal is to collect dead wood for purposes other than campfires, you are required to obtain a permit or other special authorization. Even if your goal is to sell firewood to other campers, a permit is required. You are only free to gather dead wood as long as you’re going to burn it yourself at your campsite.
Only national forests have permit policies in place to allow people to gather dead and down wood to transport out of the area. Other land management agencies do not have a permit policy in place, and will require you to make special arrangements.
National Parks and State Parks are the Most Strict
If you want to collect dead wood, then don’t visit a national park or state park. These areas are the most protected when it comes to collecting natural resources. Parks want to preserve everything as it is, including dead and down wood.
Most national parks and state parks will allow you to collect dead and down wood inside developed campgrounds. But they will prohibit this anywhere outside campgrounds. Because campgrounds in national and state parks are so congested with campers, it’s nearly impossible to find dead wood laying around.
National Forests Are Best for Commercial Wood
If your goal is to collect wood for commercial use, do it in a national forest. They already have a permit system in place for this, and they are fairly cheap. They have specific times of the year they allow this, and is restricted to certain areas of the forest. But once you have the permit, you’re pretty much golden to gather as much wood as you want.
To obtain a permit, visit a national forest ranger station.
BLM Land is Best for Illegal Collection of Commercial Wood
On the other hand, if you want to gather wood for commercial use, but absolutely do not want to obtain a permit or authorization, try the BLM.
It’s not that the BLM doesn’t care, they do care. It’s just that the BLM manages the most acreage of land in the United States with the fewest officers to patrol it all. You have a pretty good chance of collecting wood, filling up your pickup truck, and driving away with it.
Don’t Cut Down Any Trees
Cutting down timber without a permit is always illegal, everywhere. Your chances of getting caught are pretty good because law enforcement officers can always hear a chainsaw running. The consequences for cutting down a live tree are dependent on how tall the tree is, and how many trees were cut down. But in most cases, you’re looking at prison time.
If you want to cut down a live tree, then visit a national forest ranger station, and obtain a tree cutting permit. You can also get Christmas tree cutting permits too. At least you’ll have the peace of mind of doing it legal.