Are we giving insects and beetles a free ride?

Contact: Richard Levine

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.