Hauling firewood long distances can spread invasive forest pests

Fall weather means the start of firewood burning by many Michigan residents. However, cutting and hauling firewood over long distances can contribute to the spread of invasive forest pest populations around Michigan.

Stack of firewood
Stack of firewood

Fall colors are finally starting to appear across the forests of Michigan, accompanied by cooler, autumn-like temperatures as well. This means that many people across Michigan are beginning to gather firewood for their wood stoves and furnaces to keep their homes warm in response to these chilly nights. 

While it may be tempting for people to haul their own firewood downstate from their northern Michigan summer cottage or property, it is better, from a forest pest point-of-view, to procure firewood closer to their southern Michigan residence instead. Because of the threat posed by certain invasive forest pests in Michigan, such as hemlock woolly adelgid, oak wilt disease, beech bark disease and others, people may be unexpectedly transporting these pest problems to new locations along with the firewood they are gathering.

According to a May 2010 publication by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service entitled Risk Assessment of the Movement of Firewood within the United States”, the “movement of firewood is a high-risk pathway for spreading non-native and native forest pests in the United States.” The experience here in Michigan confirms this statement, as both emerald ash borer and beech bark disease originally arrived in the northern Lower and Upper Peninsula via firewood transmission. 

Currently in Michigan, there already exists several regulatory quarantines enacted by the Michigan Deptartment of Agriculture and Rural Development designed to curtail the further spread of these invasive forest pests. However, despite these regulatory measures, the spread and movement of some of these pests into the state still continues in some parts of Michigan.

So what is considered a safe distance to haul firewood from one location to another without fear of accidentally introducing new forest pest populations? According to the campaign, Don’t Move Firewood, a general rule of thumb is: “Less than 10 miles away is probably safe, but over 50 miles away is too far.” Another measure, perhaps, might be to only cut and move firewood within the same county as it is grown and consumed.

However, Michigan’s forests are at high risk from a growing number of other insect and disease problems being found across the country. Examples are the Asian longhorned beetle and the thousand canker disease of walnut. Therefore, it makes common sense to cut and use firewood closer to your home and not transport it great distances from where it was gathered. More information on the types of pests that can be transported on firewood and other related topics can be found at dontmovefirewood.org.

In addition, Michigan residents who are interested in keeping forest invasive species from spreading throughout Michigan can help out by becoming a sentinel tree volunteer with the Michigan Eyes on the Forest and Sentinel Tree Network.For more detailed information, please visit the Michigan Eyes on the Forest webpage or the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website.

Overall, preventing the introduction of new invasive species is the goal of the Michigan Eyes on the Forest Project. Funded by the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program, the MSU Eyes on the Forest project links research with outreach and communication projects through the MSU Department of Entomology and Michigan State University Extension

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