Firewood and its Hazards to Kansas Urban and Native Trees

Firewood that is untreated poses a substantial pest risk to the trees of Kansas.  Firewood frequently originates from a tree that has died or in decline.  Causes of tree death or decline are numerous but some are drought, excessive water and can include disease or insect pests. Wood intended for firewood from a tree thats health was compromised by an insect or a disease pathogen is problematic and a risk to spread pests to new trees and locations. 

For the landowner, one of the best pest control measures is to remove the infected or diseased tree and then destroy the wood. However, many use the wood for firewood.  What happens when the wood is used for firewood and is moved either short or long distances and not burned in the short term?

Firewood, until it is burned, becomes a carrier of the pest, disease or fungus which occurred in the tree before it was cut for firewood.  A landowner or firewood dealer runs the risk of moving the pest from one location to another or infesting new trees in the immediate location where firewood stacks are located when the wood is stored or seasoned for a period of time.  When the firewood is moved from its original area, be it short or long distances, pests can rapidly move into new locations and environments that under normal, natural spread circumstances may take many years to occur, if at all.  This firewood movement can be by individuals or commercially.Pupa of sawyer beetle

In Kansas, firewood has been documented to have moved diseases and insects of oaks, elm, pines, ash and hickory to name a few.  Pine wilt (see image to the right of the insect vector - pine sawyer beetle), oak wilt, Dutch elm disease, and many borers and bark beetles have been moved farther than their natural spread by firewood.

The State of Kansas and USDA quarantines regulated wood moving into the state from out of state sources and many campgrounds restrict the use of firewood to local sources.  For more information please refer to the following webpages concerning Thousand Cankers of Walnut, Pine Wilt, and Emerald Ash Borer and their risk to moving pests.  When camping, contact the campground for firewood restrictions before hauling firewood on your trip.

                                                Stack of firewood

Guidelines When Harvesting Trees for Firewood or Buying Firewood for Personal Use to Prevent New Pest Infestations

  1. Buy or harvest locally.  When you buy or harvest firewood from trees of local origin, then you reduce the risk of introducing a new pest into your neighborhood woodlands. Local origin is often defined as being within twenty to thirty miles.
  2. Season wood at or near the site of harvest. Some wood such as oak may take a year to two years to season. This provides a lot of time for insects or fungus spores to migrate out of the wood into nearby woodlands. To avoid moving pests, season near the site of harvest but away from specialty trees of higher value. Seasoning wood directly on bare ground increases the chance of termite infestation and something to be avoided.
  3. If you are buying firewood that is commercially sold, look for wood carrying a USDA emblem or state sticker/declaration regarding kiln drying or removed bark. Both treatments reduce the risk for movement of pests.
  4. Trees with mushrooms, galls, darkened discoloration of the bark or wood, borer holes, or trees such as elms, oaks and pines that suddenly die are at a higher risk for moving pests. The wood from these trees should be avoided and when cut should be burned as soon as possible in an outside burn pile (check local regulations regarding burning and burn permits). Chipping or burying wood are other methods for disposal of these trees susceptible to higher pest risks. If intended for firewood, do not move the wood from the local area.
  5. If moving to a new residence outside of your local area, leave the firewood at the old residence. The new residents will appreciate it.

More Information on Firewood