Firewood best practices for healthy forests

Buy local or buy heat treated or kiln dried firewood.

For decorative purposes.
A MiniQuick Firewood kiln with a 6-cord capacity. Kilns not only reduce drying time but also meet sterilizing temperature requirements for certification (and to prevent spreading invasive species). Photo credit: Emilia McConnell

Whether it is summer camping season or the deep January freeze, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension recognizes that burning firewood is a nostalgic and enjoyable experience for Michigan residents and visitors. For those who recreate in winter or summer, firewood is an essential part of the experience and the packing list. Downstate residents may bring firewood northward with them, and out-of-state visitors may bring supplies with them across state borders. Firewood movement, even between counties in Michigan, is widely recognized as one of the prime pathways for spreading wood-infesting invasive insects and pests.

For example, it is well established that the rapid and uncontrollable spread of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) (EAB) infestation in Michigan and in the eastern United States was traced and largely attributed to the movement of firewood from infested zones to campgrounds around the state by campers. In Michigan, 75% of new EAB infestations were associated with campgrounds, and 80% of outlier infestations were linked to firewood movement, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

As a response to threats posed by invasive species to natural ecosystems and quality of life, Michigan developed a statewide inter-departmental program in 2014 to prevent, detect, eradicate, and control terrestrial and aquatic invasive species throughout the state. Several species, including numerous plants, crustaceans, fish, mollusks, mammals, birds, and insects, are prohibited or restricted under Public Act 537 of 2014.

Invasive insects, namely the Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis), the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), and newly-confirmed spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), combined with other pests such as oak wilt (Ceratocystis fagacearum), beech bark disease (Cryptococcus fagisuga and Neonectria spp.), and thousand cankers disease (Pityophthorus juglandis and Geosmithia morbida), are all major tree health concerns that threaten the sustainability of Michigan’s nearly 20 million acres of forestland. These pests eventually make their way into harvested and distributed forest products including firewood, leading to unwanted and uncontrolled spread to non-infested ecosystems. Firewood transport is a common vector.

What can you do?

There are many alternatives to transporting firewood with you as you travel around beautiful Michigan. The first is to buy firewood locally. This ensures that wood in one area is burned where it was once standing. There are typically numerous vendors around popular tourist destinations, particularly campgrounds. Often, campgrounds themselves will sell firewood.

The second is to buy kiln-dried or heat-treated firewood. We have detailed these sanitization technologies in an MSU Extension article. In brief, these techniques heat or dry wood to temperatures and moisture levels that kill unwanted insects and pests. This means the wood is safe to transport around the state. There are also some U.S. firewood companies supplying sanitized firewood, such as Wisconsin Firewood Company and Toasty Toes firewood in New England. Though this wood may cost a little extra, the cost is part of keeping Michigan’s woods healthy and beautiful for recreation and enjoyment.

For more information on firewood best practices, please visit MSU Extension’s Firewood Education and Outreach website.

Reference to commercial products or trade names does not imply endorsement by Michigan State University Extension or bias against those not mentioned. Information presented here does not supersede the product directions.

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