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Rules on Collecting Firewood for Camping

Rules on Collecting Firewood for Camping


There are rules on collecting firewood for camping. In most cases, you are free to collect “dead and down” wood for your own personal camping uses. Most of the rules that exist with collecting firewood come into play when you transport wood out of the area, or if you’re cutting down standing trees.

collecting firewood for camping
A collection of wood gathered at Joshua Tree BLM South in California

Rules on Collecting Firewood for Camping

Most federal land management agencies are lenient when it comes to collecting firewood for your own personal campfire uses. As long as you collect “dead and down” wood, you are pretty safe to collect as much as you want.

Dead and Down Wood

“Dead and down” wood is that found on the ground. It could be an entire tree that died and fell over, or a branch that fell off a living tree. It can also include branches and trunks left behind by cutting crews. It also includes cut lumber, pallets, or junk left behind by previous campers.

Bureau of Land Management

The BLM allows for the collection of “forest products” for campfire purposes. It also has rules that prohibit you from destroying plants…

(a) On all public lands, unless otherwise authorized, no person shall; (2) Willfully deface, remove or destroy plants or their parts, soil, rocks or minerals, or cave resources, except as permitted under paragraph (b) or (c) of this paragraph;

(b) Except on developed recreation sites and areas, or where otherwise prohibited and posted, it is permissible to collect from the public lands reasonable amounts of the following for noncommercial purposes: (5) Forest products for use in campfires on the public lands.

CFR Title 43 § 8365.1-5 Property and resources
  • Note that the above rules apply only to BLM “public lands” which are lands that have no other special designation or purpose.
  • These rules don’t specifically prohibit you from cutting down dead standing trees. While it says you cannot destroy plants, we assume that to mean living plants and trees. The rules also do not limit you to “dead and down” wood, it only says you can collect “forest products”. We interpret all this to mean that you can cut down dead standing trees.
  • Rules for gathering firewood on developed recreation areas, national monuments, or wilderness areas will depend each specific area. Those rules are usually posted on a kiosk at the entrance, or you can inquire at a visitor center.

U.S. Forest Service

The USFS allows campers to gather dead and down wood for use in campfires, as long as the wood is not removed from USFS land. That is, you cannot gather wood and take it home. You have to burn it where you are camped. Moreover, you are not allowed to gather wood for resale. If you want to remove any kind of forest wood from USFS land, or use that wood for resale, you have to obtain a permit.

Also, you cannot cut down any standing tree, dead or alive, without permit. Campers are limited to collecting only dead and down wood.

For the complete rules on tree cutting and gathering forest products, see “CFR Title 36 § 261.6 Timber and other forest products“.

Note that…

  • Each national forest and national grassland is free to establish additional restrictions on gathering firewood. You will have to inquire at a visitor center or ranger station to get all the specific restrictions.
  • Some national forests will prohibit you from bringing in outside wood, and may require you to purchase firewood at authorized retail outlets, or will require you to gather dead and down wood.

National Park Service

The National Park Service will allow you to collect dead and down wood, but only in places that have been designated for firewood gathering. You should first inquire at a visitor center where in the park you are allowed to do so.

In most cases, national parks will allow you to do this inside developed campgrounds. However, because developed campgrounds are very popular places, it’s rare that you will find any dead and down wood there. In almost every situation, you will have to bring in your own wood.

(a) Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the following is prohibited: (4) Using or possessing wood gathered from within the park area: Provided, however, That the superintendent may designate areas where dead wood on the ground may be collected for use as fuel for campfires within the park area.

CFR Title 36 § 2.1 Preservation of natural, cultural and archeological resources

Note that the National Park Service also manages several “national recreational areas”. These areas are subject to the same rule above. However, most national recreation areas have larger and wider areas where firewood gathering is designated. In many of these national recreation areas, the entire area is designated for gathering.

Army Corps of Engineers

The Army Corps of Engineers allows for the gathering of dead and down wood for use in campfires. They do not, however, allow anyone to cut down trees…

(b) Cutting or gathering of trees or parts of trees and/or the removal of wood from project lands is prohibited without written permission of the District Commander.

(c) Gathering of dead wood on the ground for use in designated recreation areas as firewood is permitted, unless prohibited and posted by the District Commander.

CFR Title 36 § 327.14 Public property
  • Note that gathering dead wood on the ground is limited only to “designated recreation areas”. That is, you cannot collect dead wood outside of a recreation area.
  • Each recreation area will have a kiosk with a set of rules posted. It’s possible for some recreation areas to prohibit gathering dead wood entirely. Thus, read the rules first.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Of the 187 recreation areas that exist on USBR lands, only 37 are actually managed by the USBR. Management of the remaining 150 areas are outsourced to other federal, state, and county agencies. The rules below only apply to the 37 that are managed by the USBR. Rules for the other areas defer to those specific agencies.

The USBR allows for the gathering of dead and down wood, but prohibits you from cutting down live trees…

(d) You may bring firewood to or gather dead wood on Reclamation lands for fires as allowed under § 423.31. You must not damage or remove any live tree or part thereof except with proper authorization under 43 CFR part 429.

CFR Title 43 § 423.29 Natural and cultural resources

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The USFWS manages more than 560 national wildlife refuges across the United States. Only a fraction of these allow for camping. Of those that allow for camping, a much smaller set allows for dispersed camping and boondocking.

There are no regulations that address the issue of gathering dead and down wood for campfires. There are also no regulations specifically addressing cutting down standing trees for use in campfires. The USFWS does, however, have some broad regulations that protect natural resources…

  • CFR Title 50 § 27.61 Destruction or removal of property – Prohibits you from destroying or removing any natural object from a refuge.
  • CFR Title 50 § 27.51 Disturbing, injuring, and damaging plants and animals – Prohibits you from destroying or damaging any kind of plant life.

However, each specific national wildlife refuge is free to establish its own rules on camping, campfires, and firewood gathering. For example, Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona specifically states in its visitor brochure that you are allowed to gather dead and down wood. You will have to inquire with each specific refuge find out what the policy is.

State Parks

Of all the state parks we have visited, we have not found one that allows you to burn dead and down wood, except for that found inside of a developed campground.

  • Most state parks do not even allow you to gather dead and down wood, let alone burn it.
  • If anything, they will allow you to gather and burn trash left behind by previous campers, such as pallets, cut lumber, and other wood refuse.
  • You should inquire at a state park visitor center to find out what the regulations are.

State Trust Lands

Of the 16 states that hold trust lands, only 8 allow for recreational camping. Of the 8 states that allow for camping, only a few specifically address the issue of gathering firewood…

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2 thoughts on “Rules on Collecting Firewood for Camping”

  1. I would double check ypur assuming above that cutting down dead trees is allowed, as dead trees are often home to different species of birds and other animals, some are protected species, and cutting down the dead tree they use would be prohibited.

  2. Don’t ever cut dead standing trees even if you are allowed to, and think three times before gathering down wood. If you can cook over a campstove, you dont have to pillage material that supports small animals & microorganisms and protects soil in fragile desert environments. Firewood is usually available at a small cost locally. “Boondocking” as a WFH/retiree insta hobby is having a great deal more impact on public lands than it used to have as an outdoorsman’s occasional pursuit.


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