Monday, October 25, 2010

Tree Killing Pest

Photo courtesy of Patricia Douglass, USDA APHIS-PPQ

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about the issue of invasive plants getting accidentally spread by outdoor equipment like dirty boots. And hopefully, you are aware of the issues surrounding water based invaders- things like zebra mussels- being accidentally brought to new bodies of water on contaminated fishing gear or boats. So I’m guessing you will easily connect the dots when I tell you about another way that outdoor enthusiasts need to minimize the chance that they spread invasive forest pests and diseases- by making sure not to move firewood when you travel.

It seems like a funny thing at first- wouldn’t it be best to bring wood with you to the frontcountry campsite, so you don’t deplete the natural wood on site? And yes, that is one part of minimizing your impacts. But the catch is that supplying your own firewood good idea only if the firewood is from a very local source, or alternatively treated at a high heat (like kiln dried). If the wood isn’t local, you could be bringing in a new tree killing pest- whether a non-native pest (like the emerald ash borer, or Asian longhorned beetle) or even a native pest that simply doesn’t normally occur in that specific location (like mountain pine beetle). And so your actions could end up killing millions of trees.

Firewood isn’t really dead, and it sure isn’t sterile. A cut piece of wood can carry thousands of insect eggs, millions of fungal spores, or even just a single adult insect filled with eggs ready to lay. Just looking at a piece of wood will tell you nothing about if it could start a pest infestation- these things are often invisible to the naked eye. All firewood should be considered potentially contaminated.

So what’s the answer? Like so many aspects of leaving no trace, you have different answers depending on where you are, and what you are doing.

  • If you are reading this, and looking out of your back porch in horror at a pile of wood you collected 200 miles away, burn it soon, burn it completely, and take care to rake up any bark or other debris and burn them too. The carbon you waste and release in this bonfire will be nothing in comparison to the potential millions of acres of dead and dying trees you could cause.
  • Planning your next trip? Are you willing to skip the campfire and go with a campstove? That’s the best option.
  • Can’t bear skipping the campfire and want to plan ahead? Call someone local (ranger station, campground manager) and find out who has locally cut wood in the area for sale. If the wood is local, it isn’t an invasive species threat.
  • If it is legal, and wood is plentiful, consider a smaller fire with only hand gathered wood. Make sure this is a responsible choice given local environmental conditions.
Thanks for reading. You can learn more at, a website dedicated to reducing the spread of non-native insects and diseases via education about the firewood threat.

Today's blog is brought to you by:

Leigh Greenwood
Coalitions and Networks Manager
The Nature Conservancy,
Forest Health Program
526 East Front Street, Missoula, MT 59802
(406) 544 - 5099
mountain time zone

No comments: