Buying local firewood protects Oregon forestry and ag

By Oregon Department of Agriculture,

Buy local has a whole new meaning when it comes to protecting Oregon from invasive species this fall and winter. Consumers are urged not to purchase firewood from out-of-state and all the insects and diseases it might carry. Instead, buying local firewood can help keep invasive species from gaining a foothold in the Oregon environment.

“Firewood is becoming a major pathway for moving invasive species, and that’s not a good thing,” says Dan Hilburn, administrator of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Plant Division and member of the Oregon Invasive Species Council. “The take home message to Oregonians is to buy their firewood locally and burn it locally.”

Whether it is used at a campground or at home, people are transporting firewood great distances these days, taking with them any bugs or diseases that might not be native to that area.

“Places that have invasive species problems like sudden oak death, emerald ash borer, or Asian longhorned beetle, have lots of dying trees,” says Hilburn. “People are cutting those trees for firewood and moving it. The beetles and diseases are showing up hundreds of miles from any local infestation as people take the wood with them or sell it far from the source.”

Many trees that end up providing firewood are dying in the first place because they are afflicted with an invasive species. The firewood may look like it’s 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. A spread of the invasive species is very possible under that scenario.

“At the very least, if you purchase firewood from a far away source, burn it right away,” says Hilburn. “Still, it is better to buy the local stuff. It’s better for the environment, it is in abundance, and it is often cheaper.”

The concern over firewood is stronger this year, largely because of emerald ash borer spread. The emerald ash borer has caused extensive damage and has killed millions of ash trees in Michigan and parts of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Ontario, Canada. The insect has also been transported to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. The exotic wood-boring pest originally came from Asia and is believed to have entered the U.S. for the first time in the 1990s. It was first discovered in the Detroit area in 2002 and officials say it probably arrived in wood packing crates. Even though Oregon is about 2,000 miles away from the Great Lakes region, the pest can show up via firewood brought to Oregon by visiting campers and new residents from back east.

“Normally, the emerald ash borer only flies a few miles on its own,” says Hilburn. “But in the Midwest, they have seen a 300 to 400 mile jump believed to be caused by transported firewood. If it’s going to move that quickly across the country, Oregon could be at risk in the near future. Ash is one of our most common street trees and is in abundance in parts of the Cascades. We need to keep it out and firewood is the most likely way it’s going to come in. If Oregonians will just get used to buying their firewood locally, that would be a huge help.”

There are other unwanted pests that can easily hitch a ride on firewood. Closer to Oregon, trees in California have succumbed to sudden oak death. Even though California has regulations prohibiting the transportation of firewood from quarantined areas, it’s impossible to guarantee firewood will not cross the Oregon border. Asian longhorned beetle has been found in the Midwest and New York, and represents a huge threat to native Oregon trees. A wood wasp not native to Oregon is destroying pine trees in New York and Pennsylvania.

It may sound improbable, but 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 regulations are being discussed on a national level and if regulators can find an effective way to enforce them, those regulations could be adopted. But perhaps the best method of dealing with the issue continues to be public outreach and education.

“We are seeing more commercial operators in the firewood business, and more people are cutting their own firewood and moving it around,” says Hilburn. “Both can be done safely if it is done locally.”

Commercial operators can actually kiln dry firewood the same way companies do for imported timber. The high heat will destroy insects and pathogens. But most firewood is not kiln dried and air drying does not kill pests and diseases.

As a consumer, the best advice is to ask the seller where the firewood came from. If the seller can’t assure you the wood is local, buy it from someone who can. Packaged firewood sold at retail stores often have a label indicating the origin of the product and whether it is kiln-dried. Consumers should check those labels carefully.

The camping season is rapidly winding down. But homeowners who heat with wood or those who enjoy a crackling fireplace as the weather gets colder are going to want a source for fuel.

“We’d like for everyone to become aware that firewood is a pathway for moving invasive species, and it’s easy to fix that pathway,” says Hilburn. “Just buy local. There is plenty of it around. Buy firewood that is produced locally and burn it locally.”

Protect the state’s environment. Buy Oregon firewood.

For more information, contact Dan Hilburn at (503) 986-4663.

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