Ironic state park firewood policy sparks questions

Friday, April 14, 2017

Time spent in the natural world is typically a time of discovery, and a recent trip to Henry Horton State Park revealed something truly astonishing. This writer found “certified heat-treated” firewood, and the requirement that every camper there use it.

At first glance, one might find the Department of Environment & Conservation’s firewood policy rather ironic, perhaps even eliciting a chuckle. But, digging deeper into the new policy one will find that it’s no laughing matter.

The firewood policy reads:

Only certified heat treated firewood is allowed to enter the state park. All campfires should be made with heat-treated wood or downed wood collected inside the park, near the campsite.

The gathering of wood for use as fuel in campgrounds or picnic areas shall be limited to dead material on the ground, except where such gathering is prohibited by the Superintendent by the posting of appropriate signs.

Certified heat-treated wood is available to purchase from concessioners in many of the campgrounds as well as from vendors in the communities around the park. Certified heat-treated wood is clearly marked with a state/federal seal.

“In 2010, our state discovered the emerald ash borer (EAB) and walnut thousand canker diseases,” Tim Phelps said, as the public information officer for TDEC’s Division of Forestry. “These exotic invasive species don’t have any natural predators, and they spread through human movement. What we do find through research is that insects don’t move very far on their own... infestations are often associated with campgrounds.”

“Forest pests and pathogens are finding their way into firewood and people are taking their firewood from one state to the next,” Trish Johnson, Director of Forrest Conservation for the Nature Conservancy said.

“Firewood is vastly unregulated,” Phelps said. “A number of things have been implemented to prevent or slow the spread of EAB from our parks,” Phelps continued. “To assure diversity of tree species, we have worked to strengthen our policies. If the public values the aesthetics of our public land, we ask them to help us, while we look for other solutions to wipe out EAB.”

EAB are federally regulated exotic invasive species. “When EAB was found in the state, USDA AFIS gave us the choice to quarantine county by county,” Phelps said. EAB is found in 59 counties in eastern Tennessee now. In counties where EAB is present, loggers cannot move ash logs outside of quarantined area.”

Emerald ash borer arrived from Asia in packaging material in the Port of Detroit in 2002 and spread. “EAB like mature trees,” Phelps said. “They will work their way through established forests. We are looking for other solutions to control EAB” beyond logging quarantines and camp firewood, Phelps said. “We are looking at things like finding predators of EAB, such as types of wasps.”

EAB isn’t the only tree pest attacking Tennessee natural resources. “The woolly adelgid attacks hemlock trees,” Phelps said. “Thousand canker disease is caused by a fungus carried by the walnut twig beetle, and it is similar to Dutch elm disease.”

Phelps feels that Tennessee is fortunate to not have infestations of Asian long-horned beetles at this time. “The Asian long-horned beetle is less tree species specific. Primarily, they have been a problem in Massachusetts and Chicago, and they were recently found in Bethel, Ohio.” Because these pests will attack most any tree, every tree in a large radius must be cut down to remove their food source. Entire forests have been destroyed to control these invasive pests, and in urban areas all of the trees are cut down.

At $5 per small bundle of firewood sold at Horton State Park, and few certified firewood sources, an entrepreneurial opportunity awaits enterprising wood cutters. “The need for certified heat-treated firewood is growing as public lands have policies put in place about the type of firewood that can be used there,” Johnson said.

To be certified, heat-treated, firewood must be heated in a kiln at 140F for at least one hour. A Jackson, Tenn., workshop to address state’s need for firewood producers will be conducted April 21 at the University of Tennessee Extension Center in Jackson from 1 to 3 p.m. An alliance of state, federal and non-governmental partners announced a free public workshop in Jackson, TN that will show participants how to develop their own small businesses to sell heat-treated firewood to fill increasing demand at campgrounds in Tennessee.

During the free workshop, the group will learn about the pests that can travel in untreated firewood, about business opportunities in selling certified, heat-treated firewood and about the methods used in preparing the firewood. To date, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee State Parks and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers–Nashville District campgrounds have enacted firewood policies to restrict visitors from bringing in firewood that might be infested with tree-killing pests.

The reason? Tree-killing insects and diseases are becoming an increasing problem in Tennessee and all over the United States. These insects and diseases can’t move far on their own, but when people transport firewood in their cars and trucks they can jump hundreds of miles.

“As public agencies continue to protect our forests through these firewood policies, more citizens will need to have sources of safer firewood,” Johnson added. “This demand is creating new opportunities for local entrepreneurs to help our forests and gain a new source of income.”

Staff from Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, The Nature Conservancy, and The University of Tennessee are involved with the workshop. The April 21 workshop is the first of a series that will be held in 2017. It will qualify attendees for pesticide points and Continuing Forestry Education (CFE) points.

Please register for the workshop by contacting Katie Pareigis with The Nature Conservancy: 615-383-9909 or kpareigis@tnc.org. Directions to workshop location will be provided at registration.

For information about Tennessee’s forest pests: protecttnforests.org.

For more information about risks associated with movement of firewood: dontmovefirewood.org.

For more information about where to find local or certified heat-treated firewood: firewoodscout.org.