Globalization is not just a sweeping economic trend, but also one involving insects that's been going on for decades, one that is a serious threat to national park forests. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, officials are taking a step they hope will slow any infestation of non-native insects that can wreak havoc on native forests by proposing a rule that only heat-treated firewood can be brought into the park for campfires.
In recent years more and more national parks --Shenadoah National Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, to name two -- have instituted bans on firewood brought into the parks with hopes of slowing the spread of emerald ash borers, a particuarly nasty Asian import that can kill a tree in two years. Eggs the insects lay under the bark of a tree hatch into larva that, in effect, girdle the tree and cut off its nutrient flow. Recent news reports predict that 99 percent of ash forests in the country will be wiped out by the beetle.
Great Smoky's forests also have been attacked by emerald ash borers, and another pest, the Hemlock woolly adelgid, has been the focus of a vigorous control program in the park. Now park officials want to try to slow the spread of these insects into the park by allowing only heat-treated firewood to be brought into the park. If the proposal is adopted, beginning in March 2015, the park would ban the importation of firewood that is not bundled and certified by the USDA or a state agency. Heat-treated wood will be available to purchase from concessioners in many of the campgrounds as well as from private businesses in the communities around the park, a park release said. In addition, visitors may still collect dead and down wood in the park for campfires.
“We are asking visitors to help us protect park forests by ensuring they are using heat-treated firewood,” said acting-Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod. “The Smokies have already lost magnificent stands of chestnut, Fraser fir, and hemlock. We need to do all we can to protect the park from further threats.”
A variety of destructive pests lay eggs or stowaway in firewood. According to park scientists, these insects from Asia and Europe have the potential to devastate over 30 species of hardwood trees native to the park. Movement of firewood has been implicated in the spread of gypsy moth, Dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, thousand canker disease, Asian longhorned beetle, Sirex woodwasp, golden spotted oak borer, and other native and non-native insect and disease complexes, they add.
Numerous stakeholders representing federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and universities are joining together to develop a national strategy to mitigate the risks associated with movement of firewood, including a public education campaign. National parks throughout the Appalachian region have taken action to limit the spread of insect pests in firewood including, in many cases, the banning of imported firewood. For the past three years, the Smokies has prohibited the importation of firewood from areas quarantined by the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Current park regulations prohibit the importation of wood and wood products from states (or specific counties in states) quarantined for insects such as emerald ash borer or tree diseases such as thousand canker disease.
Although the new proposed regulation prohibiting the importation of non-certified wood would not take effect until 2015, the park is asking visitors to make the switch to safe firewood now. Heat-treated wood is available from an increasing number of businesses outside the park and staff are working with concessioners within the park to use low-risk wood sources until they are able to make the transition.
A final decision on adopting the new regulation is expected by the end of the year. The public may submit comments by: mail at 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; e-mail at [email protected]; or comment cards available at visitor centers and campgrounds.