What is the best firewood?

Buying local is always the best choice for firewood

Oregon Department of Agriculture

Simply put, firewood is a great vehicle for invasive species to slip into the state. As winter approaches, consumers may be in the market for something to put into the fireplace. The same advice used for firewood in campgrounds holds true for firewood used in homes– buy it where you burn it. Oregon’s nearly five-year old firewood law is beginning to make a difference for those who buy it and those who sell it.

“Firewood is still one of the bigger vectors for accidentally transporting diseases and insects from one state to the next,” says Helmuth Rogg, director of ODA’s Plant Protection and Conservation programs. “Buy your firewood locally and burn it where you buy it. That way, you reduce the risk of bringing in invasive species. You also support a local industry.”

Rogg remembers a call he received a couple of years ago from a counterpart at the California Department of Food and Agriculture. A border station stopped a vehicle that openly displayed firewood. The driver was from Ohio but had traveled through Oregon into California, reportedly stopping at campgrounds along the way. An inspection of the firewood uncovered live emerald ash borer larvae and adults. Emerald ash borer is a devastating insect that has ravaged much of the east and parts of the south and midwest. Rogg was unable to find out where the camper may have stopped in Oregon, but thankfully and fortunately, no detections of the harmful bug were made as a result.

“We’ve been lucky,” says Rogg. “As more people move to and through Oregon, the risk increases– especially when they bring firewood with them.”

It may not seem economical to bring firewood great distances into Oregon, but it happens. Even the firewood being sold locally may not be homegrown. ODA has conducted informal surveys in the past of firewood offered for sale at some large retail outlets in Salem and Portland. Inspectors have found firewood from numerous states outside the Pacific Northwest and even from other countries. It still happens, but the state law enacted in January 2013 provides some assurance that hitchhiking pests and diseases don’t come along for the ride.

“The last couple of years, we’ve seen some improvement,” says Rogg. “When we go to these stores now, the firewood is mostly from the Pacific Northwest.”

The rules associated with Oregon’s law prohibit firewood from outside of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho to be sold unless it has been treated at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour, which kills all the pests inside that wood.

As a result of the law, Oregon consumers can look for two types of firewood available for sale.

“There is wood that is cut in Oregon, Washington, or Idaho that is allowed without heat treatment,” says Rogg. “That is the best firewood. If it harbors insects, they are ones native to Oregon or already present. Those are not a threat to our forests. The other kind available to consumers is firewood coming from outside the Pacific Northwest which will be heat treated. It should have a label stating that it pest free. A good rule of thumb is if you know it’s local firewood, great. If it’s not local and doesn’t have a label on it, avoid it.”

Even though local firewood is not required to be labeled, commercial sellers can choose to do so anyway. A product label is allowed to claim an approved Pacific Northwest firewood. A pest free label, however, will require the same heat treatment needed for firewood originating from outside Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

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, there is no reason it can’t happen in Oregon.

“It has been a national concern, people and firewood are traveling from one part of the country to another,” says Rogg. “Oregon has been a supporter of the national campaign, ‘Buy It Where you Burn It’. ODA has also worked with state and federal campgrounds to provide information about firewood restrictions when campers register for a campsite. Some campgrounds have even provided an exchange program. If campers come with firewood from outside the Pacific Northwest, they will swap it out for local firewood.”

Emerald ash borer, which has become a poster child for how firewood can be a vector for invasive species, 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. Oregon has its own sudden oak death quarantine in Curry County. Asian longhorned beetle has been found in the Midwest and New York, and represents a major threat to Oregon’s native trees.

Outreach and education continue to be components of a major strategy to combat the spread of unwanted pests and diseases through firewood. But the state law and rules enacted by Oregon, can provide some teeth to the strategy. The state’s law was the first major legislative victory for the Oregon Invasive Species Council, which continues to push the message “don’t move firewood”, which also means don’t move invasive insects.

“These are not local bugs,” says Rogg. “They are a threat to our forests and natural resources.”

With the camping season at 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 of wood for fuel. Oregonians now can help do the right thing by buying local.

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