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Forest Service: Transporting Firewood Can Lead to Widespread Devastation

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Updated: 6/26/2013 3:30 pm

With the summer traveling and camping season in full swing, the Forest Service is asking for the public’s help in limiting harmful, invasive pests from damaging California’s National Parks and Forests.

In a release sent out by the service today, the Pacific Southwest Region Forest Health Protection staff of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has been cooperating with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to monitor the flow of firewood into the state. The CDFA records information on all loads of firewood inspected at their 16 agricultural border protection stations and also confiscates any wood that contains insects or signs of fungal disease.

According to the Forrest Service, Almost 60 million pounds of firewood have been recorded entering the state in the previous five years. Just over half (54 percent) of this weight has been in large commercial shipments of pre-packaged pieces, while the rest has been in private vehicles and typically in much smaller loads. Over the same five-year period, at least 815 individual forest pests were prevented from being carried to over 200 named destinations within California.

Firewood has been brought to California in private vehicles from 46 other states, Canada, and Mexico. The Forrest Services stated the top destinations to which firewood bearing potential pests was being transported were the greater Los Angeles urban area (95 forest pests), the Sacramento urban area (63), Yosemite National Park (45), the Sacramento urban area (63) and the San Francisco-Oakland urban area (36). Over a quarter (28 percent) of the forest pests were in vehicles with California license plates, bringing firewood back to the state from somewhere else.

Some of the more notable species the Forrest Service is battling against include emerald ash borer and gypsy moth, both of which were transported to California illegally in violation of nationwide Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service quarantines. The most dramatic example occurred in July of 2010, when a couple from Michigan was stopped in their RV at the Topaz border station (south of Lake Tahoe). Inside their vehicle was ash firewood containing adult and larval emerald ash borers.

This is the furthest this invasive exotic species has been carried and detected from its federal quarantine area in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, where it has killed millions of urban trees and cost municipalities and homeowners billions of dollars in tree removal costs and lost property values.

The Forrest Service also indicated even insects native to the US can become devastating pests if moved to an adjacent state. Their release stated less than half (46.6 percent) of the wood borers native to Arizona also occur in California. The gold-spotted oak borer is a wood borer native to southeastern Arizona that was introduced into San Diego County, California in the early-2000s, most likely from firewood. In its new environment this beetle infests at least four new host species of oak that have no co-evolved defense mechanisms; the result has been tens of thousands of trees killed with no known mechanism for containing the insect’s spread.

To help the Forrest Service out this summer, officials state the best way to help is to leave the firewood at your home where it is, and not transport it to campgrounds or other parks. They also recommend using firewood from local sources, and if you have moved firewood, burn all of it before leaving your campsite. And lastly, don’t bring firewood back from other states in California.

For more information on the firewood issue in California, you can visit the website of the CA Firewood Task Force: www.firewood.ca.gov.

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