Buying local firewood protects Oklahoma’s forests

Buy local has a whole new meaning when it comes to protecting Oklahoma from tree pest this fall and winter. Consumers are urged not to purchase firewood from out-of-state and all the insects and diseases it might carry. Instead, buying local firewood can help keep invasive species from gaining a foothold in Oklahoma’s forests and woodlands.

“Firewood is becoming a major pathway for moving invasive pest, and that’s not a good thing,” says John Burwell, Oklahoma State Forester. “The take home message to Oklahomans is to buy their firewood locally and burn it locally.”

Whether it is used at a campground or at home, people are transporting firewood great distances these days, taking with them any bugs or diseases that might not be native to that area.

“Places that have non-native insect and disease problems like sudden oak death, emerald ash borer, or Asian longhorned beetle, have lots of dying trees,” says Burwell. “People are cutting those trees for firewood and moving it. The pests are showing up hundreds of miles from any local infestation as people take the wood with them or sell it far from the source.”

The concern over firewood is stronger this year, largely because of emerald ash borer spread. The exotic wood-boring pest originally came from Asia and is believed to have entered the U.S. for the first time in the 1990s.  It has caused extensive damage and has killed millions of ash trees in Michigan and parts of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Ontario, Canada. The insect has also been unintentionally transported to at least 8 other states and has appeared as close to Oklahoma as southwestern Missouri.

“Firewood has come from as far away at both the East and West Coasts when people move to Oklahoma and have the movers transport everything in their possession- including the firewood,” says Burwell.

Firewood regulations are being discussed on a national level and if regulators can find an effective way to enforce them, those regulations could be adopted. But perhaps the best method of dealing with the issue continues to be public outreach and education.

As a consumer, the best advice is to ask the seller where the firewood came from. If the seller can’t assure you the wood is local, buy it from someone who can. Packaged firewood sold at retail stores often have a label indicating the origin of the product and whether it is kiln-dried. Consumers should check those labels carefully.

 “We’d like for everyone to become aware that firewood is a pathway for moving potentially damaging pests,” says Burwell.  “It is easy to fix - just buy local.  There is plenty of it around and you will not only be protecting the forest but supporting Oklahoma’s economy as well.”