Are we giving insects and beetles a free ride?

Contact: Richard Levine
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A new study published in the Journal of Economic Entomology reports that live insects were found in 47% of firewood bundles purchased from big box stores, gas stations and grocery stores in Colorado, New  Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Untreated firewood can harbor pathogens and destructive insects such  as the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle, bark beetles  and others, and transport them to uninfested areas.

Furthermore, the risk of moving insects in untreated firewood is high, the authors found, because insects emerged up to 558 days from  the purchase date of the wood.

There are currently no national regulations on the commercial firewood industry that require firewood to be treated before use or sale to reduce the possibility of live insects or pathogens on or in the wood. Several state and federal agencies are attempting to reduce  the risk of introducing invasive native or exotic species by restricting the distance firewood can move from its origin and by enacting outreach programs to educate the public.

However, the authors conclude that heat-treating firewood before it is shipped so that insects or pathogens are killed would be prudent  and would not restrict firewood commerce as much as bans on firewood  movement across state borders.

Based on personal observations here in Montana and Idaho, I’ve noticed  the same thing happens when we move insects in untreated sawtimber or pulpwood via log trucks to timber mills.  Sometimes the logged trees travel over 100 miles, or more, to get to a timber mill.  All the time the little insects and beetles are dropping or blowing off the log truck and taking up new residence in previously un-infested trees along logging roads and even major highways and interstate.

Next time you travel down I-90, or other major highways in Montana or Idaho, notice just how many of the trees right along the road are now infected with mountain pine beetle, for example.  As such, it’s always struck me as somewhat odd that some people advocate more logging, even mandated logging, of beetle-infested trees under the mistaken impression that logging beetle-infested trees somehow prevents or stops the infestation. In actuality, logging beetle-infested trees, and then transporting those trees all around the state via log trucks, may just be helping to spread the beetle infestation all around the region.

5 thoughts on “Are we giving insects and beetles a free ride?”

  1. Matt, you undersatnd how far MPB can travel on their own right? This notion, that logging trucks are spreading beetles between a sale area and the mill, is a stretch at best.

    Now i could potential see a problem with packaged fire wood being shipped all over the and sold at gas stations and grocery stores. But this is a different senario.

  2. Smokey, so the family grabbing a bundle of firewood at a gas station or grocery store and then heading out to the campground or cabin for the weekend represents a risk of spreading insects or beetles…In fact, the researchers said, “the risk of moving insects in untreated firewood is high.”

    Yet, 5000 board feet of beetle-killed trees aboard a log truck headed 150 miles down logging roads, county roads, state highways and the interstate represent no threat at all and suggesting such a threat is “a stretch at best?”

    Honestly, how do you figure? And has anyone else noticed that beetle-killed trees line many roadways in the northern Rockies? Also, anyone gone to Canada lately through any of the northern Rockies crossings? You know what Canadian border crossing guards are looking for? Not drugs. Not guns. But firewood!

  3. I am no expert, but aren’t native beetle species more or less ubiquitous across the landscape and just irrupt when conditions are ripe? If so, moving a few native insects around wouldn’t likely do much harm.

  4. Logging trucks and other equipment from the Lower 48 have been well-recognized primary vectors of non-native invasive plant species on the Tongass National Forest.

    This is now a huge and very expensive problem which is predicted to get much worse with accelerating impacts of climate change. Our island ecosystems are far more vulnerable to these impacts due to natural propensity for fragmented landscapes and endemism.

    These economic impacts are but some of many hidden costs left off of the actual balance sheet under “a timber-at-ALL-costs” management regime.

    Inter-island transportation of logs and logging equipment within our archipelago very clearly spread these invasive plant species which are first seen sprouting up along the edges of our extensive, expensive, and highly damaging logging road system.

    There’s very little difference between seeds and eggs. It would not be difficult at all to imagine the spread of insects occurring by the same process which has brought the scourge of invasive plants here.


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