Out-Of-State Firewood Exchange Planned This Weekend

Maine forest. Maine news from the Rumford Meteor

AUGUSTA, Maine – A second out-of-state firewood exchange, designed to prevent the importation of dangerous invasive insects to Maine’s forests and to make Maine visitors and residents aware of the problem, will take place this weekend on the Maine Turnpike.

A detail of Maine Forest Service forest rangers and entomologists will set up an educational kiosk and exchange station for three days, Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 14-16, at the northbound Kittery rest area, according to Maine Forest Service (MFS) officials.

For the second time this fall, MFS forest rangers will exchange out-of-state firewood, now banned in Maine, for Maine firewood, as a way to prevent the spread of two invasive species in particular, Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) and emerald ash borer (EAB). Both insects, already found in near-by states, threaten to destroy Maine’s forests.

“This is part of a continuing effort to let folks know how important it is to not move firewood into Maine because of the extraordinarily damaging pests it can bring in,” Alec Giffen, MFS director, said.

Giffen said the first exchange, held last month, was very successful. “I was extremely pleased and frankly surprised at the volume of material coming into Maine,” the MFS director said. “It underscores the importance of this ban.”

MFS State Entomologist Dave Struble also called the first firewood exchange successful and pointed out that awareness about the danger of moving firewood is increasing among the general public.

“It’s beginning to get into the public mindset that lugging firewood around isn’t as risk free as it once was,” Struble said. He said that national polling done recently by a California corporation showed that outreach about the firewood issue was affective.

“The message we can take from this is that behavior is changing,” the state entomologist said. “We still are in outreach mode, and it’s working.”

The two insects have destroyed millions of acres of trees in other states. ALB infested the Worcester, Mass., area and recently was discovered in Boston. EAB, which has killed millions of ash trees and threatens Maine’s American Indian basket-making tradition, has been found in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

The first Maine firewood exchange was held Sept. 2-4 at the northbound Kittery rest area, after Giffen signed an emergency order immediately implementing the firewood ban. Legislation calling for the ban was passed this past session by the Maine Legislature.

Maine Forest Service forest rangers used electronic signs to direct turnpike drivers with firewood to stop and exchange their imported firewood. Four to seven forest rangers worked each day, talking with people, handing out literature and exchanging wood. A total of 929 contacts were made over the three-day period, with more than 2,000 pieces of firewood exchanged.

All the seized wood was sealed in plastic bags and secured with duct tape; the place of origin was recorded; and wood samples were taken to the MFS entomology lab and Gray district headquarters for analysis and storage. All the wood, except for the samples, was destroyed.

Public response to the firewood exchange was “very positive,” according to Bill Williams, MFS chief forest ranger. “Even those people not hauling wood were encouraged to learn that Maine was doing something to curb invasive species that could damage the Maine forests,” he said.

According to exchange data, 56 percent of the wood came from Massachusetts; 16 percent from Connecticut; 12 percent from New Hampshire; and the remaining wood from Rhode Island, 8 percent; Vermont, 4 percent; and New Jersey, 4 percent.

Most of it was being taken to campgrounds south of Portland. The most northern destination was Freeport, Williams reported.

While interacting with the public, the MFS forest rangers found most people were familiar with the invasive insects, but didn’t know there was a Maine ban on firewood.

Two seizures were of particular importance. One piece of hardwood found in a load of wood from Kittery had signs of insect tunneling; a sample was taken, though the whole load wasn’t confiscated because of its Maine origins. A second seizure consisted of ash firewood from Massachusetts that had bore holes in it. The firewood was bagged and taken to Gray.

The samples since have been taken to the New Hampshire Division of Forest & Lands, which has a hatching laboratory, Struble said. The lab consists of a series of ventilated barrels each with glass-emergence jars and a light trap to monitor what emerges from the wood samples, he said.

Up to this point, no invasive exotic pests have been discovered. “This is no reason, however, for complacency,” Struble said. “We know that moving firewood is a principle mechanism for introducing pests to new areas.”

This weekend’s exchange is targeting hunters, recreationists and out-of-state camp owners coming to Maine to fill their wood supply, Williams said.

“It will be the exact same detail and the exact same location, except we will have an educational booth set up” at either Kittery or Kennebunk, he said. The educational booth will provide information both for those hauling wood and for the general public from out of the state, he said.

At least 2 cords of Maine wood will be available for the exchange program, Williams said.

“Making an exchange takes only a few minutes to happen, and there’s no inconvenience; it works very smoothly,” the chief forest ranger said.

Williams said his only concern was the volume of wood that might be needed for the three-day exchange.

“Regardless of what is exchanged, the opportunity to meet and educate the public is of incredible value in protecting Maine’s forests from invasive species,” he stressed. “This can’t fail because we will be educating the public.”