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Collecting Wood From Fallen Trees: When It Is Not Legal

Collecting Wood From Fallen Trees: When It Is Not Legal

Given the rise in fuel costs and harsher winter temperatures, it is natural to seek out firewood anywhere it is available. However, it is important to note that there are legal consequences for gathering fallen logs and branches from trees that do not belong to you.

Is it legal to take fallen trees? If you don’t own the tree or the property where the fallen tree is, it’s not legal to take the wood as it is the property of the woodland owner. You need their consent before taking any wood. In some states, such as California, it’s legal to collect wood for campfires in certain areas.

There’s more to the legality of collecting wood from fallen trees. Read more to find out when it’s legal to collect firewood for campfires or for later use and when it is not.

Collecting Firewood – What To Know

As a law-abiding citizen, it pays to know the legality of unusual situations including whether you can collect firewood from privately owned woods, state parks, and other areas. Otherwise, you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law for something as trivial as a few pieces of wood.

Can I Pick Up Wood From Fallen Trees?

Unless you own the fallen trees or the piece of land where the trees have fallen, chances are you have no right, legal or otherwise, to pick up wood from such a tree.

Before you bend down to gather some firewood for your campfire, check with the woodland owner to see whether they consent to your collecting the logs and branches from the fallen tree.

If it’s a state park, check the local laws regarding the park and whether you’re allowed to pick wood from fallen trees or not. Some states allow the gathering of firewood at certain times of the year for free or for a minimal fee. 

Is It Legal To Forage for Firewood?

The short answer is that it depends on the state you live in and whether the fallen tree is on a privately owned piece of land or in a state park.

If you’re trying to collect wood from private woods, that’s illegal for the most part unless you get consent from the landowner. 

If it’s a state park and you’re trying to build a campfire, the state laws vary widely not just among states but also depending on the time of year.

Some states, like Colorado, allow the collection of firewood from June to the end of October every year for a fee of $10 per cord, but if you try to gather wood from a fallen tree any other time of the year, that would be considered theft.

Can You Take Wood From a State Park?

State laws govern state parks. These state laws vary from one state to the next. Some states like California allow the gathering of wood for campfires across the state except for some designated areas.

Other states like Colorado allow you to collect firewood for a minimal fee of $10 a cord between July and October every year. 

If you’re camping in a different state, then you need to check the rules and regulations regarding collecting wood from the state park in that state. Not all states are so generous with their firewood.

Can You Collect Wood From a National Park?

In general, the USDA Forest Service allows everyone to collect deadwood from fallen trees as long as they’ll use it to build a campfire. No license or prior consent is required for such an act.

However, if you want to take the deadwood off the site of the national park or forest, that requires permission from the forest service itself. 

If anyone is caught with deadwood from a national park without a fuelwood permit, they fall foul of the law and might get into serious trouble.

Collecting Wood From Public Land

Dead and fallen wood on public land is free for all as long as the purpose is to use it for a campfire. The same laws that govern federal forests and national parks also cover public land.

Gathering wood for purposes other than building a campfire is considered illegal.

Taking Wood From the Side of the Road

It’s illegal to take wood from the side of the road without prior consent or permission from whoever owns the land.

When in doubt, refrain from taking wood even from a fallen tree on the side of the road when you cannot establish ownership of the fallen tree or the piece of property. 

Can You Take Fallen Trees From Private Land?

Private land is protected by the law along with everything that grows or used to grow on that land. If a tree falls on private land, you have no right to collect wood from that tree.

You can try to contact the owner of the property and get their consent to take wood from the fallen tree. If you get their permission, then it’s legal to collect as much wood as you’re allowed to.

Can I Collect Logs From the Woods?

You need to first determine to whom the woods belong. If it’s private property, then consent from the woodland owner is required before you can collect the logs. If it’s a state park, then the local laws of the state will determine the legality of collecting logs.

For public lands as well as federal forests and national reserves, gathering deadwood for the purpose of building a campfire is allowed, but gathering logs for any other purpose would require a permit from the authorities. 

Penalties for Taking Wood Illegally

The penalties for taking wood illegally vary between fines and imprisonment and depend on how much wood was taken, for what purpose, and whether the offender was aware of the illegality of their actions or not. 

A large sign prohibiting firewood collection with penalties stated.

How To Collect Firewood Legally

To collect firewood legally, make sure you understand the nature of the forest and the laws that protect it. If you’re trying to get deadwood from private land, then you need to get consent from the woodland owner.

If it’s a state park, then getting the proper permits will allow you to collect firewood legally.

For federal forests and national reserves, it’s legal to collect firewood for the purpose of building a campfire. Gathering logs even from a fallen tree for other purposes is prohibited.

Firewood Permits

Firewood permits, sometimes called fuelwood permits, are special permits issued by state parks or national forests that allow individuals to gather firewood in specific amounts and under certain conditions.

The conditions often limit the source of the firewood to a fallen or dead tree. Even with a permit, you’re not allowed to get wood from a live tree.

Where To Buy Cheap Firewood

You can buy cheap firewood from a feed store or a local farm. Also, check local classified listings in newspapers and online for firewood at a good price. You can sometimes even find it listed for free with the provision that you cut and load it yourself.

Related Questions:

Can I Sell Firewood From My Property?

You can sell firewood from your property as long as there are no zoning laws that limit the cutting of trees.

What Time of Year Is Firewood the Cheapest?

Early spring is the time of year when firewood is the cheapest. As summer draws to a close and chilly weather creeps in, prices often rise.


You can only collect wood from fallen trees to build a campfire from national parks and federal reserves. State parks have local laws that vary by state.

Private land requires the consent of the landowner before collecting deadwood from a fallen tree.