You are here

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Proposing Rules For Firewood You Can Bring Into Park


An example of the damage emerald ash borers can do to trees, from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore/NPS

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; or comment cards available at visitor centers and campgrounds.






JohnBick -- that idea's time has passed.  Bans on gathering firewood from the forests near campgrounds came about because over the years virtually all the dead and down wood had been used up.  Campers seeking wood began attacking living trees with their hatchets.

Most western campgrounds now have firewood for sale at the host's campsite or somewhere else.  That provides wood, but prevents damage to trees in the camp.  (Heck, I've even seen cases where people hacked up picnic tables and benches for firewood.)

Like so many of those awful rules and regulations that chafe so many people, these have evolved simply because too many people leave their common sense and responsibility at home.  So rules have had to replace those qualities.

The exchange of fauna and flora has gone unabated since 1492.  1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created is a great book in that regard.  Obviously, as worldwide trade speeds up and increases, we're seeing more of those invasive species.

That may increase the need for the NPS to be a gardener rather than just a guardian. :)



I have met with Mitton and discussed his theory with him. Problem is, he can't explain why the double breed phenomenon hasn't occurred in lower elevations where the temperature has always been warmer.  Nor does he explain why this new phenomenon has occurred during a period when temps didn't rise.  Without being able to explain those, I don't see how he can attribute double breeding to global warming.

I've never understood why anybody needs to carry firewood into a national park or anywhere else. Using what's there serves two valuable purposes: it clears a fire hazard and prevents the spread of non-native insects. If you're camping, get off your butt and gather.

Kurt, they are a pathogen.  So, in human perspectives, more like cancer. A human saw would be more like a bullet to a tree. And yes, they start the process of breaking down stressed forests (an act of decomosition).  The parks canada article I posted above talks about them as decomposers. Fire is also a decomposer of forests. Very beneficial decomposer, because they put nitrogen back into the soil..  Unfortunately, climate change is making many trees susceptible to pathogens, hence what seems to be happening even here in the Smokies.

Here's a decent video on some of this in relation to climate change:

re examine the data until you arrive at the right conclusion.

Seems to be reoccuring theme around these parts. Thanks for the chuckle! ;-)


We are not calling into question Gary's detailed, scientific analysis of a situation here.  He has proven that his methodology is without flaw so I suggest folks re examine the data until you arrive at the right conclusion.


Think I'd have to agree with EC on this one, especially if your definition of "decompose" is: break down (organic matter) or (of organic matter) to be broken down physically and chemically by bacterial or fungal action; rot

2.chem  to break down or cause to break down into simpler chemical compounds break up or separate into constituent parts

It would seem the beetle is no more a "decomposer" of a tree than a bullet is to a human.

That aside, what is particularly disconcerting is that with warming temperatures, some forests are seeing two generations of pine beetles in one summer. A double-whammy, if you will.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments