Cut Firewood Where You Burn It
The Importance of Not Transporting Firewood
Firewood is easy to buy. You can find it outside grocery stores and gas stations nearly anywhere you go in the northern United States.
Sometimes, however, when you bring firewood to a campsite, you risk bringing uninvited and unwelcome guests with it.
Splitting local firewood with your own log splitter helps to cut down the spread of invasive insects and diseases that can be detrimental to forest health.
The Problem with Invasive Insects
Insects that are fine in one forest can be devastating in another.
The emerald ash borer is the beetle that perhaps most people call to mind when they think of invasive insects. It can attack every species of ash tree in the United States and to date has never been successfully eradicated from an area. However, ash trees in the beetle's native region of east Asia can repel it using chemical defenses.
The emerald ash borer isn't the only insect that can wreak havoc outside of its native space:
- Asian longhorned beetle: feeds on living tissue from several kinds of trees
- Hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA): sucks sap from hemlock and spruce trees
- Spotted lanternfly: sucks sap from fruit trees; produces a substance called honeydew that can attract other insects and fungi
These insects are not detrimental in their native habitats, but when transported over great distances, they can pose incredible threats to other ecosystems.
The reason for this is that trees have natural defenses to native insects, which help keep the ecosystem in balance. These defenses can include chemicals that trees produce, like those in the ashes that repel emerald ash borer, and predators that feed on the insect.
Outside of an insect's native region, trees might not have developed the chemicals that repel the insects, and the predators simply might not exist. This means that a new environment likely has no way to keep an invasive insect population in check.
The Problem with Invasive Pathogens
There are also diseases, fungi, and other types of pathogens that can wreak havoc on foreign ecosystems.
You might have heard of Dutch elm disease. It's caused by a fungus called Ophiostoma ulmi that first was spotted in the U.S. in the 1930s. The fungus spreads from tree to tree via the eggs of either the native elm bark beetle or the European elm bark beetle. Once inside the tree, it can produce chemicals that block the channels the tree uses to transport water.
Other kinds of plant pathogens and diseases exist as well:
- Beech bark disease: caused by an insect that feeds on beech trees and a fungus that follows it and blocks the tree's sap flow
- Sudden oak death: caused by a water mold that leads to cankers in a tree's trunk and spots on its leaves
- Thousand canker disease: caused by walnut twig beetles crawling under the bark of walnut tree and bringing with them an infectious fungus
- White pine blister rust: caused by a type of fungus called a rust that creeps down a pine tree's branches and into its trunk over the course of years
And those are only a few. However, they can all be avoided by keeping firewood local to its native habitat.
How Careful Must You Really Be?
Even if you carefully inspect your firewood, you're not likely to notice pin-head-sized larvae. You'd also likely miss any microscopic fungus spores. They're too small to notice, but they're still dangerous enough to destroy an ecosystem.
You might think it's fine to transport firewood because you plan to burn it all. However, while your intentions are good, the larvae or spores could easily fall from the firewood during transportation. All it takes is a gust of wind or the brush of your hand to break off a small piece of contaminated bark, and you've contaminated an entire forest.
Commercial firewood sellers have rules to follow regarding how far they're allowed to move and sell firewood. Individuals don't work on such a large scale, but they still have rules in place.
So when you travel and need something to burn, follow popular advice and buy it where you burn it. If you aren't traveling, take out your trusty log splitter and enjoy your firewood close to home.