If you’re packing up the car for a camping trip, you can’t
leave without the marshmallows and duct tape and bug spray, but
in more and more places, you can’t take firewood with you. That’s because government officials are worried about a destructive beetle
that people are spreading by moving firewood. The GLRC’s
Rebecca Williams reports:
If you’re packing up the car for a camping trip, you can’t leave without the
marshmallows and duct tape and bug spray, but in more and more places, you
can’t take firewood with you. That’s because government officials are
worried about a destructive beetle that people are spreading by moving
firewood. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports:
(Sound of RV humming)
Butch Sloan can’t imagine camping without a fire:
“Sitting back and watching the wood burn and kinda dreaming about old times
or whatever, you know? That’s part of your camping. Yeah, you gotta have
your camp fire!”
Sloan’s been coming to this Michigan campground from his home in Ohio for 20
years now. For the past few years, it’s been illegal for anyone to move
hardwood firewood over the state line. There can be steep fines if you’re
That’s because of the emerald ash borer. It’s an invader from Asia that’s
killing millions of ash trees in the upper Midwest. Moving just one piece
of infested firewood can start a new outbreak. Beetles can emerge from the
wood and fly to healthy ash trees.
Butch Sloan says he brings wood from construction sites or buys firewood at
the campground instead:
“As far as trying to bring regular firewood across the state lines, the fines
are just too high. I don’t want to take a chance on it, you know? We bring
the two by fours and stuff like that, and that’s good fire, good cooking, you
But there are plenty of campers who ignore the laws and bring firewood with
them. That’s why states such as Michigan and Ohio are setting up
checkpoints along highways. They’re trying to catch people sneaking
firewood out of infested areas.
(Sound of traffic)
Here on a two lane country road in Northwest Ohio, every car and truck is
being stopped. State workers ask the drivers if they’ve got firewood.
“If we do find someone that has brought firewood with them, we ask them to
pull into a parking lot and at that point we begin to interview them to find
out where the firewood came from.”
Stephanie Jaqua is a crew leader with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
She says a lot of the people they catch don’t understand the quarantine
laws. But she says others don’t think they’re part of the problem:
“We have had people in the past say there’s no ash in the back of my truck, you know,
there’s no way I’m transporting emerald ash borer, and then you get to the
bottom and there are four pieces of ash in the bottom.”
Jaqua says that’s why the laws are written the way they are. It’s illegal
to move any hardwood firewood out of quarantined areas, not just ash wood.
Jaqua says the best thing campers can do is buy firewood where they camp and
burn it all up at the site.
A lot of campers say the firewood rules are annoying, but the rules have
changed everything for some people.
Jim Albring owns Lumber Jacks Quality Firewood. His business is in
Michigan, just a mile and a half from Ohio. He says before the ash borer
arrived, most of his customers were in Ohio. Then, suddenly, he couldn’t
move firewood across the state line.
“It was profitable and we were increasing by 25-30% a year until the ash
borer hit. And now we’ve dropped uh, boy, I don’t even know. I don’t really
look at the figures too much any more because it’s disheartening.”
Albring says at first, he could only sell to people a few miles away in
Michigan, so his customer base totally dropped out. He says these days,
people from Ohio still drive up and try to buy firewood from him.
“If we know or we’re suspicious it’s going back to Ohio, we tell them how
heavy the fines are and then they usually back off right away and they don’t
try to get it.”
That’s the problem with trying to stop the destructive insect from spreading
across the country. Even government officials admit there’s no way to stop
every single person from moving firewood.
Patricia Lockwood directs ash borer policy for Michigan:
“I think it’s going to be extremely difficult and we’ve known that from day
one, to stop it. What we have always agreed on is we’re buying ourselves
time. What we’re looking for is time so that the science can catch up.”
And researchers are scrambling to find something that will stop the ash
borer, a natural predator or a perfect pesticide. But scientists say
states have to contain the infestations in the meantime.
That means there’s a lot of pressure on campers and hunters to change their
habits. Tossing some wood in the back of the truck on the way up north used
to be pretty harmless. Now it’s changing entire landscapes, as millions of
trees get wiped out by the beetle.
For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.