Oregon agricultural officials have finalized the rules for a new state law addressing imported firewood that goes into effect Jan. 1. Oregonians will have a choice to buy local or buy firewood that has been heat-treated and labeled as pest-free.
"The rules prohibit firewood from outside the Pacific Northwest unless it has been treated at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour to kill all the pests inside it," says Dan Hilburn, director of plant programs with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "That's very important, because there are invasive pests and diseases outside of our region that could travel to Oregon on firewood."
The 2011 Oregon Legislature passed the firewood law and gave ODA regulatory authority.
For the past year, ODA has been working on the rules that go along with the law. Following a public comment period, the agency has now finalized those rules in an effort to diminish the possibility of dangerous insects hitching a ride to Oregon on firewood.
"We think these rules will be put into place just in the nick of time," says Hilburn.
Starting in January, Oregon consumers should look for two types of firewood available for sale.
"There will be wood that is cut in Oregon, Washington, or Idaho that is allowed without heat treatment," says Hilburn. "That is the best firewood. If it harbors any insects, they are the ones that are native to Oregon. Those are not a threat to our forests.
"The other kind that will be available to consumers is firewood coming from outside the Pacific Northwest, which will be heat-treated. It will have a label stating that it pest-free."
Even though local firewood is not required to be labeled, commercial sellers can choose to do so anyway. A product label is allowed to claim an approved Pacific Northwest firewood.
A pest-free label, however, will require the same heat treatment needed for firewood originating from outside Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
States with invasive species problems like emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, or sudden oak death have plenty of dying trees that are cut for firewood and then moved.
These trees die in the first place because of the insect or disease, which can then show up hundreds of miles from any local infestation as people take the wood with them or sell it far from the source. It has happened in other parts of the country, it can happen in Oregon.
"Emerald ash borer started out in the Detroit, Michigan area and has been spreading about 20 miles a year on its own," says Hilburn. "The bug flies and spreads naturally. But there have been infestations showing up in campgrounds well in front of the leading edge of natural spread.
"Ash is an excellent firewood, so trees that are dying in Michigan often end up in the back of a pickup truck or in an RV that goes camping in Missouri or Pennsylvania, as an example. You can tell the insect is being moved with the firewood because it shows up first in campgrounds."
Emerald ash borer, which has become a poster child for how firewood can be a vector for invasive species, has killed millions of ash trees in Michigan and parts of Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Ontario. The insect has been found in several other states.
Even though Oregon is about 2,000 miles away from the main activity, the pest could easily show up on firewood.
Other unwanted pests can be readily transported on firewood. Even though California has regulations prohibiting the transportation of firewood from quarantined areas for sudden oak death, nobody can guarantee firewood will not cross the Oregon border.
Asian longhorned beetle has been found in the Midwest and New York, and represents a major threat to Oregon's native trees. A wood wasp not native to Oregon is destroying pine trees in New York and Pennsylvania.
Firewood often comes to Oregon over great distances, even if it doesn't seem economical.
A quick survey conducted by ODA at just a handful of stores in the Salem area found commercial firewood from six states and Canada. The wood came in small bundles and nearly all carried live insects. Fortunately, none were found to be the serious invasive bugs Oregon does not want.
There is also the possibility of families moving from back east to Oregon, bringing with them nearly everything in their possession– including firewood.
The state's new firewood law is the first major legislative victory for the Oregon Invasive Species Council. OISC has done significant outreach and education prior to the law coming into effect, including a major "buy it where you burn it" campaign two years ago that featured billboards and radio ads.
"This is the kind of regulation we hope will simply guide people's behavior," says Hilburn. "ODA will be checking labels as we go about our other business to make sure people are complying, but everyone agrees the best way to enforce this law is to get the word out."
A handful of other states have enacted their own firewood importation laws. Neighboring Washington and Idaho will be watching closely as Oregon moves forward with its law to help protect its natural resources.
With the camping season at an end, the attention now shifts to homeowners who heat with wood or simply enjoy a crackling fire as the weather gets colder. They'll be looking for a source of wood for fuel. Oregonians now can help do the right thing.
"I look at it like the Smokey Bear campaign, which is designed to get people to pay attention and put out their fires," says Hilburn. "This law is protecting our forests from another threat, the threat of invasive species. We need people to make sure they are buying local wood or buying wood that has been heat treated."