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Buy and Burn Firewood Locally to Stop Invasive Hitchhikers

Campers drop off firewood at a state facility before crossing the bridge to the Upper Peninsula. Forestry officials believe infected firewood helped spread emerald ash borers to the U.P.

May 26, 2011

When packing the trailer for a weekend up north at the cabin or a favorite campground, there's one item on everyone's checklist that should actually be left at home: firewood.

Incredibly destructive invasive species and forest diseases - such as emerald ash borer (EAB), oak wilt and beech bark disease - are all too happy to hitchhike to new parts of Michigan on that bundle of firewood. Department of Natural Resources forest health specialists can't stress enough how important it is for firewood to be bought and burned locally.

"Whether the wood came from a fallen tree in the back yard, or from the convenience store down the road, it should not be transported outside of the immediate area it came from," said Bob Heyd, a DNR forest health specialist. "Forest pests and diseases are often undetectable until it is too late. Keeping firewood close to the area it came from is the only reliable way to prevent the spread of these hitchhikers."

Though regulating the movement of firewood depends greatly on voluntary cooperation from the general public, the state has taken some steps in recent years to prevent the spread of invasive species and forest diseases on to state land.

For example, it is illegal to bring ash firewood onto any DNR-managed lands, including state parks, recreation areas and state forest campgrounds. Additionally, transporting hardwood across the Mackinac Bridge and outside of quarantine areas in the Upper Peninsula is also prohibited by law.

"We've all seen the pictures of neighborhoods in southern Michigan where emerald ash borer killed all of the ash trees lining residential streets," Heyd said. "Many of those trees were cut into firewood that was moved up north by campers and hunters. This is the primary way that emerald ash borer has been moved to new parts of the state, resulting in millions of dollars of damage to Michigan's timber resources."

The movement of ash and the spread of emerald ash borer to other parts of the state is just an example of what state officials are hoping to prevent by asking people not to move firewood from any type of tree, not just ash. Enjoying a fire is a camping tradition, but campers should make sure they obtain firewood locally, not transport it across the state.

Many species of trees found in Michigan's forests and residential yards can be affected by pests and diseases such as, gypsy moths, beech bark disease, oak wilt and many other tree killers - ash and EAB aren't the only culprits.

"Beech bark disease has removed American beech from many parts of the state," Heyd said. "This is another example of an exotic test that was most likely introduced to Michigan from infected firewood. Oak wilt is a fatal disease of red oaks that that continues to spread to locations in Michigan through the movement of infected firewood."

Though a fallen tree in the back yard may be an attractive source of free firewood for an upcoming camping trip, the cost to Michigan's forests if that firewood were to spread pests or disease is just too high a price to pay.

"When a tree dies, it's good to know the cause," Heyd said. "It may have been diseased, or weakened by an invasive insect. Taking that firewood along when you go to camp could put your favorite vacation place at significant risk for a devastating loss of trees."

Those who wish to cut their own firewood for local use are encouraged to cure that wood if it won't be immediately burned. To cure cut wood, stack it in loose piles raised off the ground for at least two years. This process encourages the wood to dry and helps rid the wood of any pests. The inside of the bark of an ash tree shows the trails left by emerald ash borer larvae.

Campers who follow the advice to leave their firewood at home are still able to have their campfires; locally cut firewood is available for sale in or near Michigan's state parks, recreation areas or state forest campgrounds. Campers are asked to buy manageable bundles that they will be able to burn while camping, and to not transport any surplus wood back home or to the next campground on their itinerary.

"Regulations regarding the movement of wood and wood products by the commercial timber industry are already in place, but our efforts to stop the spread of forest pests and diseases hinge entirely on cooperation from the millions of Michigan residents and visitors who use firewood at camp or while camping each year," Heyd explained. "Similar to what Smokey said about forest fires, only you can prevent the spread of forest hitchhikers by leaving that firewood at home."

The following are general guidelines for safely using firewood:

  • Buy and use only locally cut firewood.

  • Do not transport firewood across county lines.

  • Know and observe the state's firewood movement quarantines.

  • Burn excess firewood; do not bring it home.

For more information about the various invasive pests and forest diseases that can be spread through the transport of firewood, visit www.michigan.gov/foresthealth.

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