K-State Research and Extension News
January 22, 2009
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Firewood-Harbored Insects Can Attack Living Trees

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Today’s high heating costs and push for alternate fuels are sparking renewed interest in wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.

“Some homeowners are still needlessly worried that they could be adding to the decline of our nation’s forests or bringing insects into their house on well-seasoned logs,” said Bob Atchison, Kansas Forest Service. “For forestry professionals, however, the biggest reason for concern right now is the homeowners who – knowingly or unknowingly -- buy firewood from out-of-state.”

Except for that concern, the state and federal foresters in the Western (U.S.) Forestry Leadership Coalition are actually promoting the idea of using wood as a fuel, Atchison said. They believe that turning U.S. forests’ waste wood into a renewable energy source will help prevent forest fires. It also should create jobs, promote tree and watershed health, and help maintain the quality of surface-water supplies.

Wood destined for home burning can’t be treated with chemicals or insecticides, he warned.

“Homeowners can be reassured, though, that most of the insects that can emerge from logs won’t infest or cause damage to structures,” Atchison said. “Besides, when you properly store firewood outdoors and only bring it indoors within hours of burning, the odds that insects will emerge are low.”

Even so, when firewood results from trees that were infested with wood-boring insects, the logs are likely to have borers, too – even in cold outdoor storage. Most of these boring insects are harmless, the forester said, but the emerald ash borer is a very real threat to the health of ash trees in Kansas.

“The Asian emerald ash borer has mostly been spreading via firewood since it was first found six years ago in Michigan. By 2008, the pest had killed about 50 million U.S. ash trees in 10 states, including Missouri,” Atchison said. (See: http://www.emeraldashborer.info/index.cfm.) “It’s why Kansans need to find out where their firewood comes from and encourage out-of-state visitors to leave firewood at home.

“Unfortunately, the emerald ash borer can also be introduced on ash tree nursery stock from the states of Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Unless we are lucky, as well as vigilant, we may end up having to treat ash borer-infested trees the way we now treat victims of pine wilt and Dutch elm: Remove and bury, chip or burn -- ASAP.”


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by: Kathleen Ward
K-State Research & Extension News

Bob Atchison is at 785-532-3310.