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Firewood: 'Buy it where you burn it' to prevent spread of virus, pests

To avoid introducing insects and diseases to new areas, specialists recommend only burning firewood close to where it was purchased or picked up.

November 23, 2022

2 Min Read

Texas A&M Forest Service urges all Texans, and especially outdoor enthusiasts, to help reduce the spread of oak wilt and invasive insects by taking preventive measures and being knowledgeable when collecting, transporting and purchasing firewood.

As Texans travel for hunting or camping trips, they may unknowingly be bringing deadly, invasive pests and diseases along with the firewood.

“Many devastating, tree-killing pests present in Texas forests live and breed inside firewood,” said Demian Gomez, Texas A&M Forest Service Regional Forest Health coordinator. “Some wood borers, such as the invasive emerald ash borer and redbay ambrosia beetle, have already caused devastating impacts, practically wiping out entire tree species from some regions of the country.”

The emerald ash borer, present in North Texas, has killed millions of ash trees across the eastern U.S. The redbay ambrosia beetle continues to spread west from the southeast, killing redbay and sassafras trees along the way. Similarly, native pathogens such as oak wilt, have killed oak trees in Central Texas in epidemic proportions.

Each of these forest pests cause severe ecological and economic impacts over time. While they can spread on their own, accidental transport by humans is one of the main ways they can move greater distances, sometimes quickly jumping state and county lines. Firewood is one of the main ways many of these pests are moved, regardless of how seasoned or old the firewood is. Even wood that looks clean and healthy may still have insect eggs or fungal spores that can start new infestations.

Limit the spread

 “We can limit the spread of invasive tree pests,” said Gomez. “The best rule of thumb is to burn the firewood close to where it’s bought or picked up. Moving firewood can easily introduce insects and diseases to new areas, particularly during hunting and camping seasons.”

For diseases like oak wilt, this is critical. Transporting and storing infected wood from red oaks can spread oak wilt fungal spores to previously uninfected neighborhoods and properties. Because live oaks tend to grow in large, dense groups, oak wilt spreads quickly, and one infected tree can lead to large patches of dead and dying trees.

While firewood is an important commodity in the fall and winter, Texans can help prevent the spread of these pests and diseases by purchasing, collecting and burning firewood locally.  

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Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, AgriLife Today

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