Imported firewood can carry insect pests & diseases
Oregonians are strongly urged to "buy local" when it comes to firewood this fall. A new state law addressing imported firewood was passed by the 2011 Oregon Legislature but doesn't go into effect for another 14 months. Still, it's not too early for buyers and sellers to be aware that a good way to protect the state from invasive species is to only purchase local firewood.
"You don't want to bring in firewood from outside the Pacific Northwest because there are many pest problems out there that we don't have and don't want in Oregon, and firewood is an excellent vector for these invasive insects and diseases," says Dan Hilburn, administrator of the Oregon Department of Agriculture's Plant Division and member of the Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC). "To help protect Oregon's forests and agriculture industry, the message is simple- buy your firewood locally and burn it locally."
It may not seem economical to bring firewood great distances into Oregon, but it happens. A couple of weeks ago, ODA received a call from an Oregon resident who had brought mesquite back with them after visiting New Mexico. California's inspection stations at the border often detect unwanted plant material after it has traveled through Oregon. Last year, a camper from Michigan had made their way through Oregon carrying firewood from their native state. California authorities detected emerald ash borer in that firewood. Thankfully, the tree-killing insect has not been detected in Oregon.
Even the firewood being sold locally may not be homegrown.
"We did our own survey of bundled firewood for sale just in the Salem area and found that it came from six different states and one foreign country- Canada," says Hilburn.
States with invasive species problems like emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, or sudden oak death have plenty of dying trees that are cut for firewood and then moved. These trees die in the first place because of the insect or disease, which can then show up hundreds of miles from any local infestation as people take the wood with them or sell it far from the source. It has happened in other parts of the country, it can happen in Oregon.
"Emerald ash borer started out in the Detroit, Michigan area and has been spreading about 20 miles a year on its own," says Hilburn. "The bug flies and spreads naturally. But there have been infestations showing up in campgrounds well in front of the leading edge of natural spread. Ash is an excellent firewood, so trees that are dying in Michigan often end up in the back of a pickup truck or in an RV that goes camping in Missouri or Pennsylvania, as an example. You can tell the insect is being moved with the firewood because it shows up first in campgrounds."
Emerald ash borer has killed millions of ash trees in Michigan and parts of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Ontario. The insect has been found in several other states. Even though Oregon is about 2,000 miles away from the main activity, the pest could easily show up on firewood.
Other unwanted pests can be readily transported on firewood. Even though California has regulations prohibiting the transportation of firewood from quarantined areas for sudden oak death, nobody can guarantee firewood will not cross the Oregon border. Asian longhorned beetle has been found in the Midwest and New York, and represents a major threat to Oregon's native trees. A wood wasp not native to Oregon is destroying pine trees in New York and Pennsylvania.
As unlikely as it sounds, firewood can make a transcontinental journey thanks to human activity.
"Firewood has come from the East Coast when people move to Oregon and have the movers transport everything in their possession- including the firewood," says Hilburn.
Firewood may look dead, but the bugs and diseases inside go right on living. Even firewood that is split into small pieces may contain the insect or disease. If firewood is stored for any great length of time, beetles can bore out, and diseases can sporulate and fly off into the wind.
The Oregon Legislature felt the threat to the state's environment is strong enough to warrant a new law. Beginning in January 2013, there will be restrictions and requirements on imported firewood. Most notably, firewood coming from outside the Pacific Northwest will need to be heat treated and labeled. The finer details are still being worked out. In the meantime, however, both consumers and firewood dealers don't need to wait for the law's implementation date.
"Buy it, cut it, burn it locally," repeats Hilburn. "Look on the labels on packaged firewood to make sure what you are buying comes from the Pacific Northwest. Or if it is coming from outside the area, look to ensure that the firewood has been heat treated or kiln dried. Many companies are already putting that information on the label even though the law won't require it until 2013."
Neighboring states are looking at similar regulations. About a half dozen other states have enacted their own firewood laws to protect their environment.
Outreach and education continue to be components of a major strategy to combat the spread of unwanted pests and diseases through firewood. OISC last year launched a major "buy it where you burn it" campaign that included billboards and radio ads. A national website also provides information and tips on not moving firewood.
With the camping season nearing an end, the attention now shifts to homeowners who heat with wood or simply enjoy a crackling fire as the weather gets colder. They'll be looking for a source a wood for fuel.
"We want everyone to remember that firewood is a pathway for moving invasive species," says Hilburn. "Shutting down that pathway is simple- just buy local, there's plenty of it around."
For more information, contact Dan Hilburn at (503) 986-4663.
Story of the Week pdf version
Audio Story of the Week