Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On the Edge of Firewood Regulation

If a trees dies in your yard, what do you do? Chances are good, you would cut it up for firewood. Chances are not good most people would recognize the risk of spreading invasive species via that firewood.

Trees die for many reasons, but recently non-native invasive pests have been killing trees in some parts of the country. Ash trees are being killed in midwestern states by emerald ash borer, maple trees are dying from Asian longhorned beetle in Massachusetts, black walnuts are threatened by thousand canker disease, and closer to home, sudden oak death is killing tanoaks in Curry County and the coastal areas of California. These examples are the worst of a whole gallery of invasive pests attacking trees.

We humans inadvertantly make the problem worse by packing our firewood when we go camping. A quick look at the current distribution of emerald ash borer highlights the problem In the middle of the map, you can see the general infestation centered on Michigan. This infestation spreads at less than 20 miles per year through natural dispersal of the beetles.

The outlier sites in New York, Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are the result of people moving infested wood. Uninformed campers bringing wood with live bugs in it are a big part of the problem. Last summer, infested firewood was intercepted at a California border station from a camper leaving Oregon. Their homebase was Michigan, and they had brought their firewood with them!

Trees are one of our biggest assests in Oregon. We’ve got to protect them. The Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC) has two related initiatives. They are in the second year of a regional outreach and education campaign to encourage people to buy and burn local firewood. Hopefully, you’ve seen the billboards and/or posters. We’re lucky to have plenty of local firewood available locally; we don’t need to pack it.

The OISC is also shepherding a bill in the Oregon legislature (HB 2122) to regulate firewood imported from out-of-state. Much of the commercial firewood sold in this country comes from distant sources. Check the labels the next time you’re at a store that sells firewood bundles. If the bill passes, out-of-state firewood would have to be labeled and heat treated to eliminate potential pests before being sold in Oregon. This week, the bill crossed its first hurdle by unanimously passing out of the House Agriculture committee with a “Do Pass” recommendation.

Most of the discussion during the committee hearings centered on how to handle issues along Oregon’s border. Regulations generally have geographic boundaries. It can be awkward and difficult to enforce regulations along geographic boundaries. For instance, what if you live in Hood River, Oregon, and your friend offers you free firewood from their woodlot in White Salmon, Washington. Would that wood have to be heat-treated and labeled to legally enter the state of Oregon?

A strict interpretation of the bill would indicate that treatment/labeling would be required, but there is a prevision in the law for exemptions. It says: “The department may adopt rules for exempting casual retail sales of firewood by priviate individuals. . .” This is important as it would allow us to deal with real-world situations along Oregon’s borders where “buy local, burn local” might include the states of Washington and Idaho. Common sense and regulation are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If this bill passes, we’ll have to keep in mind during rulemaking that the purpose of the law is to prevent long distance transport of untreated/unlabeled firewood.

There will be another chance for public testimony on HB 2122 soon . If you’d like to provide comments, you’ll have a chance when the bill is heard by the Senate Environment and Natural Resource Committee. To date, only the OISC and Oregon Department of Agriculture have provided testimony on the bill. Other agencies and lobbyists have been watching from the sidelines. It would be nice to have more support. The next hearing hasn’t been posted yet, but it will probably be in early March. You can follow committee agendas online at

We’ve also got to get better at keeping invasive species out of North America in the first place, but that is a national issue and the subject for another blog.

Dan Hilburn

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