Slash Disposal – Alternatives to Burning

Steve DeCook, DNR Fuels Specialist, Northeast Region

In the last few years, a significant effort has been underway to improve the health of Washington’s forests and reduce fuel loading by reducing stems per acre. Funding from state and federal agencies is available through cost-share programs to help landowners thin, prune, and clear excess brush from their property. But once the work is done, there’s one more issue to deal with – what to do with all the trimmed and cut material.

While burning can be an effective way to dispose slash, it also has its drawbacks. In addition to permitting and air quality concerns, a landowner has to monitor the burn while it is active and may also need to monitor the burn pile for months to make sure all the heat has been  extinguished. Who has time for that?

Mechanical masticator.
Mechanical masticator.

One of the most popular alternatives to burning is mechanical mastication – a process that chews or pulverizes the material. In eastern Washington, the most popular machine used for mastication is a skid steer with a mulcher head mounted on the front, although larger equipment can be used as well. The operator can either masticate standing trees/saplings or drive over rows of slash that have been placed by a hand crew. Some former loggers have retooled and re-equipped their machines and are available for hire to help with fuel reduction work.

Landowners may also prefer to use a chipper. Most models are pulled with a pick up and are very effective on flat ground. Some chippers are mounted to the back of a farm tractor and are powered by the tractor’s power take-off system. The chips are uniform in size and can be repurposed into landscaping, animal bedding, and dust or noxious weed control. Chippers can be purchased or rented from most equipment rental companies.

Chipper and truck.
Chipper and truck.

Firewood is another way to dispose of cut material if the logs are big enough and of the right species. While some homeowners may only need a little firewood each year for an occasional fire in the fireplace or a weekend trip to the family cabin or a campfire, others may rely on wood as a primary heat source. Larger quantities of firewood can also be sold for a profit.

Slash can also be piled to block access to areas on your property.