Don’t Let Tree Trouble Hitch A Ride On Firewood

Photo of spongy moth egg masses attached to a piece of firewood

A pair of spongy moth egg masses attached to a piece of firewood. Moving this firewood to another site could put trees at that site at risk in the spring. / Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

By Art Kabelowsky, DNR Forest Health Outreach/Communications or 608-335-0167

Are you generally hesitant to give hitchhikers a free ride?

October was National Firewood Awareness Month, and even though November has arrived, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) continues to urge residents and visitors to follow the same line of thinking when it comes to moving firewood.

That’s because tree-killing hitchhikers often lurk on or in firewood — including spongy moth, emerald ash borer, the fungus that causes oak wilt and other invasive insects and fungi. When untreated, infested firewood is transported away from where the tree died, those pests and fungi can later emerge to attack trees at the new site. This can happen whether that new location is in the next town or hundreds of miles away.

Photo of a firewood stand at Potawatomi State Park

A stand at Potawatomi State Park offers local firewood for sale to campers. / Photo Credit: Wisconsin DNR

This fall, the risk of moving spongy moth is high. The summer of 2023 saw a record number of acres of Wisconsin forests defoliated by outbreaks of spongy moth. Such high populations of the pest increase the risk of spread to uninfected areas by their sheer numbers.

Plainly stated: Your firewood choices are important, and with good practice you can help slow the spread of these tree-killing pests.

Wisconsin has laws to help prevent the movement of spongy moth, focusing on this risk posed by firewood.

  • A state spongy moth quarantine prohibits the movement of firewood and other products that can carry spongy moth eggs to counties on and near the western border of Wisconsin, or to other states where the pest is not established.
  • Firewood from more than 10 miles away is prohibited from entering State Parks, Forests or other DNR properties. The DNR’s web site has a page explaining firewood regulations.
  • County, federal and private campgrounds may have their own firewood restrictions. If moving firewood to or through tribal properties in Wisconsin, contact the tribe for its policy on allowable firewood.

The Don’t Move Firewood website urges people to “buy local, burn local.” That means purchasing firewood for your camping trip on-site instead of bringing it from home. It’s also strongly recommended that campers leave any unused firewood behind. You don’t want to bring a pest home to infest your property.

The same guidelines stand for those who use wood to heat their cabin or home. Closer is better. You don’t want to put the trees on your own property at risk from hitchhiking insects or fungi.

Firewood that has been treatment-certified by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Human Protection (through heating or aging the wood to kill infesting pests and diseases) is safe and legal to take anywhere in the state. All staffed state campgrounds offer local firewood for sale, and firewood is often available for sale nearby. To find local firewood sellers and vendors of certified firewood, visit the Firewood Scout webpage.

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