Garden Detective

Jessica Damiano's award-winning garden blog gets to the root of things.

Why you should stick to locally cut firewood

(Nov. 26, 2008)

(Nov. 26, 2008) (Credit: Newsday, 2008 / Bill Davis)

It's warming up this week, but don't be fooled: It's going to be mighty cold soon. The Farmer's Almanac is even predicting another nasty winter. So what could be worse? How about an insect infestation that you cause all by yourself while you're trying to keep warm?

Most people don't give firewood much thought. Some cut their own, let it season and throw it in the fireplace or wood-burning stove, but most Long Islanders with fireplaces buy their wood without considering where it came from. Wood is wood, right? Not so fast.

Firewood that's been transported more than 50 miles can increase the risk of new invasive pest infestations that can destroy trees in our area.

A recent study, “Economic Impacts of Non-Native Forest Insects in the Continental United States” by Aukema et al. estimates the damages associated with such pest infestations cost urban and rural municipalities nearly $1.7 billion in local government expenditures and about $830 million in lost residential property values totaling more than $2.5 billion every year.

More than 450 nonnative forest insects are established in the United States, according to the report, and many of those, including the destructive emerald ash borer, red bay ambrosia beetle, and thousand cankers disease, are known to hitch rides on infested firewood. Other pests that move on firewood have cost local and federal authorities tens of millions of dollars to control and eradicate in just the past five years, the report said.

Within New York, the pests most likely to be spread by moving firewood are the Asian long-horned beetle, emerald ash borer, and oak wilt. Additionally, if people bring firewood from other states into New York, infestations of other damaging invasive pests not yet present can occur.

To help prevent new infestations, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has enacted a regulation that prohibits the import of firewood into New York unless it has been heat treated to kill pests, and limits the transportation of untreated firewood to less than 50 miles from its source.

Invasive insects and diseases can even lurk in dry and seasoned firewood, hidden in the layers of wood beneath the bark, which makes them difficult to detect. While these pests can't travel far on their own, moving firewood that harbors them enables them to start an infestation in a faraway place. Past invaders have devastated native species of trees like  the American chestnut, hemlock, and American elm.

Buying locally harvested wood will help protect against a decrease in property value, the cost of removing diseased or infested trees and the loss of the landscape you poured your blood, sweat and tears into.

Here are some tips from the Don't Move Firewood campaign:

-- Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it  -- that means the wood was cut in a nearby forest, in the same county, or a maximum of 50 miles from where you'll have your fire.

-- Don’t be tempted to get firewood from a remote location just because the wood looks clean and healthy. It could still harbor tiny insect eggs or microscopic fungal spores that will start a new and deadly infestation of forest pests.

-- Aged or seasoned wood is not considered safe to move, but commercially kiln-dried wood is a good option if you must transport firewood.

-- If you have already moved firewood, and you need to dispose of it safely, burn it soon and completely. Make sure to rake the storage area carefully and also burn the debris. In the future, buy from a local source.

-- Tell your friends and others about the risks of moving firewood -- no one wants to be responsible for starting a new pest infestation.

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