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Wood for Life program supplies firewood to hundreds of Navajo, Hopi families this year

In the center of the image, an elderly Native man carries a piece of firewood to the back of a 4x4 truck. Three other people cluster around, two of them drawing from a large stack of cut firewood. The background is a ponderosa pine forest.
Melissa Sevigny
A family loads up firewood with the help of volunteers during a free firewood giveway organized by the Wood for Life Initiative in November 2023 on the Coconino National Forest.

Homes on the Navajo and Hopi Nations largely rely on firewood to keep warm in the winter. A unique collaboration is stepping up to meet that need. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports the Wood for Life program has supplied about 350 households so far this year with wood cut from a forest thinning project near Flagstaff.

The program involves multiple partners including the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps. Their crews are on track to thin twenty acres on the Coconino National Forest this year. They fell small-diameter trees that have little market value and use chainsaws and chippers to make firewood and mulch.

Marshall Masayesva, project manager, says "From an Indigenous perspective it’s really important to utilize the entire tree, nothing of that tree should be wasted."

The Wood for Life program began in 2020 following the closure of the Kayenta coal mine. Coal was the main source of heat for Navajo and Hopi homes, but now they have to use firewood, which is scarce in the area.

Maria Morales of Arizona Public Service and Maddie Smith of the National Forest Foundation help families load the wood during a free firewood giveaway.

"First and foremost, this wood can be reused as a good resource," Morales says. "It’s a green waste that can be used as a resource to heat homes."

Smith adds, "The cost of firewood is pretty exponential, especially during high-demand times like right now, so even just one load of free firewood makes a huge difference."

The program began in Northern Arizona and has expanded to New Mexico, Colorado, and Idaho.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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