Backpacking through national parks is a great way to test your knowledge and skills, explore nature, and feel at peace. Sometimes that involves camping, cooking, and blazing trails. If you need firewood, it’s all around you. But not always neatly chopped up. If you need to remove a fallen tree from a path, you can opt to climb over or saw it off. But is it legal to use a chainsaw in a national park?
Using a chainsaw in a national park within the United States or any national forest land is prohibited. The only way you can legally use a chainsaw is if you have a permit or certification and a chainsaw with a spark arrester that is correctly installed, in working order, and is approved by the USDA. You must also carry a fire extinguisher and rounded shovel.
So what does that all mean? Does that mean you will need some kind of extensive training? Will you be fined if you’re carrying a chainsaw but not using it? There is still a lot to unpack here, so let’s take a deeper look at using chainsaws in national parks.
Who Can Operate a Chainsaw in a National Park?
Anyone can operate a chainsaw on national lands as long as they have a permit issued from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This permit allows you a certain amount of wood that you can collect, as long as you are operating at the right time of year and day, and carrying all the necessary safety measures and tools.
Aside from the personal use permit, many national parks and forests are kept up by their volunteers, who go through training, evaluation, and certification. There are four levels of your sawyer certification. These certified volunteers mostly clear out trails and campsites from debris as well as assist in forest fire fighting and prevention.
What Do You Need to Use a Chainsaw in National Parks?
There are four required items that you need to carry with you. If you are found without these four items, you will be subject to a $5,000 to 10,000 fine or at least six months in prison, depending on which state and park you are found in and how serious you have disregarded the regulations.
- A Permit – As discussed already, you need to have a USDA-approved permit to use a chainsaw in a national park. You need to be at least 18 years of age or older and have a photo ID. There is a fee for the permit, and permits are only available during a certain time of the year. It is best to call ahead for the current forest fire threat so you know if you can use a chainsaw that day.
- A Spark Arrester – Apart from your permit, you will need to have your chainsaw equipped with an approved spark arrester. This is a stainless-steel mesh that is located on the muffler. It protects sparks from flying and igniting nearby brush. Some rangers will require you to open the chainsaw up so they can inspect the spark arrester.
- A Fire Extinguisher– Additionally, you need to have a state inspected pressurized chemical fire extinguisher. It has to be a minimum of 14 ounces, positioned within 25 feet of your saw. The fire extinguisher needs to be at a minimum 2A rating. Different parks will have slightly different requirements for the extinguisher, so make sure you check the information online for the park you will be sawing at.
- A Shovel – The third required piece of equipment is a round-tipped shovel that is somewhere around 36-46 inches long, depending on the park. The shovel also needs to be within 25 feet of your saw, and its purpose is to be able to shovel dirt on a spreading fire or to wedge and dig out logs from the ground.
Also, for safety, consider bringing water, a phone, a first aid kit, rope, protective eyewear, hiking shoes, and a pen for recording the removal record on the back of your permit. It might also be a good idea to have gloves, an axe, a wedge, and a spare tire and jack if the load gets too heavy for your vehicle. While these items are not required, they are good suggestions to follow for your safety and the safety of your crew.
Cutting up trees or limbs with a chainsaw in a national park isn’t something you can do casually or for no good reason. It takes quite a bit of effort to be approved and do the work of felling trees for fuel or volunteering to clear the pathways. But with the right tools and approvals, you can enjoy collecting firewood. And with the correct training and certifications, you can volunteer to clear out all those rotting trees along your backpacking trail.