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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington urges campers to buy firewood where they burn it

The emerald ash borer is an invasive insect that can kill trees.  (David Cappaert/Michigan State University)

Firewood is a decent home for insect larvae. They can hide out behind the bark, complete their life cycle and grow into adults. It’s also a good way for them to hitch a ride somewhere. Wherever the wood goes, so goes the larvae.

That’s a problem when it comes to invasive insects, like the emerald ash borer, a pest with the power to kill trees.

Washington officials this week renewed longstanding guidance for campers and anyone who loves a good fire: Buy firewood where you burn it.

The Washington Invasive Species Council, Washington State University Extension and the state departments of agriculture and natural resources issued a news release Tuesday urging campers to avoid moving firewood.

Of particular concern is the emerald ash borer, which has not been found in Washington but has been found in Oregon and was found last month near Vancouver, British Columbia.

Stephanie Helms, executive coordinator of the Invasive Species Council, said other pests like the Asian longhorn beetle and the spotted lanternfly are also a concern. Those, too, have not been found in the state, and Helms wants to keep it that way – in part by getting campers to burn local.

The guidance is simple enough, but it raises questions – such as how far is too far to haul wood?

Helms said the general rule is no more than 50 miles, and that 10 miles or less is best. That should be local enough to prevent the movement of an insect any farther than it can naturally fly.

You can cut it yourself – check local regulations first – or you can pick it up somewhere that sells firewood.

“When we say local firewood, we’re referring to the closest convenient source of wood that you can find,” Helms said.

Store-bought wood might not always be local, but much of it is treated in a way to eliminate the threat of moving insect larvae, Helms said. Wood bundles marked with a U.S. Department of Agriculture seal indicating that they were heat treated are OK to move.

“They’re going to be able to treat that wood to kill any larvae that could be inside of it,” Helms said.

Avoiding an infestation of emerald ash borer could help the state avoid the havoc the insect is known to wreak on trees. The insect has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America, according to the news release, and it’s been moving west. Moving firewood is believed to have contributed to its spread.

Keeping your firewood local isn’t the only way to help the Invasive Species council keep an eye out for the pest. Burning all the wood you bring on a trip is a good – and fun – practice. The council also has a webpage where people can learn to recognize the various pests of concern.

Helms said they encourage people to report unusual bug sightings on their website, The agency also has a mobile app where people can report invasive species sightings.

She added that people should report anything with insects that seems suspicious, even if they aren’t sure what it is. Finding the pest early could save time and money for the state’s rapid response efforts.

“We’re always pushing no matter what, see something, say something,” Helms said.