Buying local firewood protects Oregon forestry and ag
— Imported firewood is a major pathway for invasive species
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 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 (OISC). “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. “It’s better to buy the local stuff. It’s abundant, often cheaper, and better for the environment.”
This summer, the “Buy it Where you Burn it” campaign was launched in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho using grant funding from the 2010 Farm Bill. The campaign includes billboards and radio ads, firewood exchange programs, biodegradable flying discs and playing cards with “Don’t Move Firewood” messages, and public awareness surveys conducted by Oregon State University to measure the campaign’s effectiveness. Coupled with an OISC outreach and education campaign funded by a grant, the public will learn a lot more this fall and winter about the dangers of transporting firewood.
The emerald ash borer continues to be a campaign poster child . The insect has caused extensive damage, killing millions of ash trees in Michigan and parts of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Ontario, Canada. It has also been transported to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. Oregon may be about 2,000 miles away from the hub of activity, but the pest can show up via firewood brought in 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 jumps of several hundred miles 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. Infested firewood from Michigan was intercepted at a California border station in July of this year. 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 can get used to buying firewood locally, that would be a huge help.”
Other unwanted pests 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 at the state and 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 kiln dry firewood the same way companies do for imported timber. High heat destroys insects and pathogens. But most firewood is not kiln dried and air drying doesn’t 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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