For most people, camping out brings to mind sitting around a campfire, cooking, sharing stories, or laughing together. A campfire can be the cozy hearth that friends and family gather around at the end of a busy day enjoying nature.
If you’re like many people who enjoy camping, you might not think much of grabbing some wood that Uncle Bob cut from his property and take it with you as you head out of town. After all, it is free and already cut! Many of us grew up hauling firewood to our campsites.
It turns out that this common practice has put some of our forests at risk (or even under active attack) by non-native insects and diseases. These unwanted pests can be transported from regions where they are common to areas that have not been exposed through firewood.
Once in a new location, these devastating species can become established in a forest and kill large numbers of trees and vegetation quickly.
Pests like the emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, Asian longhorned beetle, and Rocky Mountain pine beetle can move pretty far on their own; but when they are in firewood, they can be transported hundreds of miles to infest new forests.
Trees have evolved over time to survive with some local insects and diseases, and natural predators have developed to control populations of these native pests. When non-native species, which are not normally found in a particular area, take hold, the forests have few natural defenses which can allow these introduced pests to become invasive quickly.
The result can be disastrous—destroying forests, increasing wildfire danger, decreasing property values, and costing time and resources to control.
Even wood that does not have any visible indications of being infested can carry eggs or spore of pests that could be problematic. Some states have quarantines in place to prevent moving firewood out of a particular area.
To prevent introducing non-native species through firewood, you should always ask your firewood seller where the wood was obtained. Areas in the Central and Eastern US allow you to buy firewood with the state Department of Agriculture seal certifying that the firewood has been heat-treated to kill pests. (Note that firewood labeled as “kiln-dried” is not sufficient to have killed possible invasive pests.)
The rule of thumb is the shorter distance from where the wood was harvested to where you intend to use it, the better. On the same thought, don’t be tempted to take left-over firewood home with you, as you may be introducing problem pests to your own area.
State-by-state information for requirements, guidelines, and quarantines for firewood can be found at Don’t Move Firewood. Firewood Scout is a growing resource that can show local wood vendors in specific areas where you may be traveling.