Each year, quite a few people in the Bitterroot Valley jump into their pickups and head to national forest land to cut a supply of firewood for winter heating. But you need a permit. This year's personal firewood cutting permits go on sale April 2 at Bitterroot National Forest Service offices. The cost is $20, which allows you to cut four cords of firewood, and you can buy additional permits - up to 12 cords per person per year. What's a cord? It's a pile of wood measuring four feet high and four feet wide, with an eight-foot length.

Tod McKay of the Bitterroot National Forest reminds us that the permits are not for commercial use; personal use only, and allow users to remove downed timber or standing dead trees on National Forests and Grassland and Bureau of Land Management lands in Montana, Northern Idaho and portions of North and South Dakota. The usual restrictions are: no cutting in recreation areas, campgrounds, along Wild and Scenic River Corridors, or within 150 feet of any other stream or lake.

You need to check with local ranger stations when you head out, to find out specific area closures and restrictions. By the way, you need to pile your leftover slash, so take a rake. You don't burn it, but you need to be careful where you locate your pile - keep it away from trees, power lines, downed logs or rotten stumps that could spread a blaze. The Forest Service will burn the slash later in the year.

A traffic reminder - some roads are still clogged with snow and others are extremely muddy. Don't go there; you'll make the damage worse. Find another area or wait until later in the spring or summer. The permit is good for a year. Check out more information at the Bitterroot National Forest website.