Why is the park modifying its firewood policies?
Invasive insects and diseases that live in firewood are a growing threat to the forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding region. Tree-killing insects and diseases can hitch-hike hundreds of miles on firewood when people bring wood into campgrounds.
Because of this threat, the National Park Service is requiring that campers use heat-treated firewood, or downed wood collected inside the park, for campfires beginning in March 2015. Learn more about pests that threaten Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What type of pests live in firewood?
Movement of firewood has been implicated in the spread of spongy moth, Dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, thousand cankers disease of walnut, Asian longhorned beetle, Sirex wood wasp, goldspotted oak borer and other native and non-native insect and disease complexes. Some of these pests have life cycles that live in or on wood while others produce fungal spores that can be transported on firewood.
How could forests be threatened by firewood pests?
Several of the pests currently threatening the country can live on more than one species of host trees. Asian longhorn beetle feeds on over 30 different species of trees that grow in the park. European and Asian spongy moth caterpillars feed on several hundred species of trees and shrubs—including oaks, which make up nearly 40 percent of forest here.
All in all, conservative estimates indicate that 50% of park's forests could be killed or damaged by these pests.
Small mammals, bear, deer, and many bird species such as turkeys, depend on fruits, seeds and nuts produced by walnut, oak, ash and other mast producing trees and shrubs. The reduced availability of hard and soft mast crops such as acorns and berries will affect many of the animals you visit the park in hopes of seeing. Loss of the forest canopy and tree mortality may also cause stream temperatures to rise, impacting fish, amphibians, and the aquatic insects they feed on. In addition, the death of trees may lead to changes in fire behavior, exotic plant invasions, slope instability, changes in hydrology, and the associated increases in cost to control fire, manage exotic species and maintain trails and park infrastructure.
Why are non-native insects and diseases so much worse than the native ones?
Native trees have defenses against insects and diseases that they've been living with for millions of years. Likewise, native predators eat native insects, keeping their numbers in check. Non-native insects and diseases have no predators in their new homes and the trees have no natural defenses against them. Because these foreign bugs don't have anything stopping them, they reproduce rapidly, killing thousands of trees in their wake.
Aren't the pests going to get here anyway?
While a ban on the importation of non-treated firewood will not entirely halt the spread of destructive forest pests and diseases, it will greatly slow it down. This allows time to develop and implement treatment strategies that may control the impacts from these non-native pests and diseases.
Without being physically transported, non-native invasive species, might never reach a new host tree or they would take much longer to get here on their own. At the beginning of the emerald ash borer infestation in Michigan, it was estimated that insects could move 15 miles per year on their own. However, new infestations were found up to 150 miles away from known infestation sites due to movement of infested wood.
What kinds of firewood will be allowed under the proposed firewood policies? Where can I get it and will it cost more?
Campers may still collect dead and downed wood in the park for campfires. Beginning March 1, 2015 only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the USDA or a state agency may be brought into the park.
What is heat-treated firewood?
Certified heat-treated firewood is a high-quality hardwood product that lights easily, burns very well for campfires, is safe to cook over, and is already sold at many locations. The heat treatment kills insects and pathogens that may be in the wood. The current standard for emerald ash borer is 60º Celsius (140º F) for 60 minutes and it is considered effective on a number of pests. Kiln dried is a similar term but there are no time/temperature standards for the term.
Why can’t I bring wood from my home if I live close to the park?
Unfortunately, many areas near the park already have infestations of invasive forests pests. Bringing local wood from home may transport pests to new locations in the park including your favorite campgrounds. While the pests may eventually get there on their own, the proposed regulations will help slow or stop the movement of foreign pests, enabling more time for management solutions to be found.
Another thing to consider—forest insects and diseases may be present in an area for several years before anyone notices them and a quarantine is established. During this time, the pests can be spread to other areas in firewood. In addition, quarantines only cover a few of the (known) destructive insects and diseases that can be introduced to the national park via firewood. Other equally devastating pests, which have yet to be recognized as a forest threat by quarantine agencies, may be in living in the wood.
What are other parks doing to protect their forests from tree pests and pathogens?
Many parks across the nation have taken action to limit the spread of insect pests in firewood. In the Appalachian region, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, Shenandoah National Park, Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area have bans on importing firewood. The Blue Ridge Parkway is currently considering a ban. Visit www.dontmovefirewood.org to learn more.
Can I bring lumber scraps or pallets to burn?
We do not recommend burning lumber scraps, but it is not prohibited. Although lumber and pallets are often kiln dried, they typically are not heated to a temperature high enough to eradicate all pests, posing the risk that insects and diseases may still be living in them. In addition, if lumber scraps are kept outdoors, they can become infested with new pests. This is how spongy moth infestations have been spread to new areas. Campers should not burn pressure-treated lumber as it contains highly toxic compounds.
Last updated: August 20, 2022