Filed under: Comfort at Camp, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Recreation & Hiking, Preparation & Readiness, State & National Parks, Tent Campgrounds
A Really Nasty Bug
A winter-night’s dream finds me walking through the middle of a tall grassy field ablaze with warm sunshine, songbirds singing, and butterflies darting about. Nearby is a brook overflowing with large rainbow trout hungry for the fly on the end of my line. As the sun sets, we will dine on trout cooked over glowing campfire embers.
My dream excludes the reality of chiggers, ticks, mosquitoes, gnats, wasps, spiders, and biting flies also enjoying the habitat and dining on me as I reach out for my dream.
Like it or not, we share the world with bugs and their presence can make our real life experiences a lot less pleasant if control measures are not taken.
One insect, or bug, that has recently changed the landscape of at least fifteen eastern states and parts of Canada is the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire – an exotic beetle that was first discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. By exotic, I mean they are not native to our spaces. They are believed to have arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes originating in Asia. The EAB is not a large insect – it will sit nicely on the face of a penny, with a little room to spare.
Unfortunately, this is not the only invasive insect, fish or animal to find it’s way into territories where it has never lived due to the mistakes we make in a world now dominated by global commerce. Stowaway’s in the ballast tanks of ocean going freighters, imported fruits and vegetables, traders of tropical and exotic animals and fish – just to mention a few – have changed the long-standing balance of nature.
Once out of their native habitat, many of these invaders establish themselves and take over or destroy huge segments of preexisting natural environments at an alarming pace.
The Emerald Ash Borer has destroyed millions of beautiful ash trees in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ontario, and Quebec. Infested ash trees that once provided a beautiful green canopy of foliage that soaked up excess levels of carbon dioxide, provided homes to wildlife and songbirds as well as shade form the hot sun now stand barren and dead.
These dead trees make excellent firewood – which may account for how the EAB has spread so rapidly.
It all starts when adult beetles begin to nibble on ash foliage. But, this is not what causes the damage to the ash tree. The EAB larvae feed on the inner bark of the trees, literally cutting off the tree’s ability to transport water and needed nutrients to the branches above. Once attacked by the EAB, the tree usually dies within two years.
Now, here is the real kicker – the adult EAB can only fly about 1/2 mile from the tree where it began life as a larvae. The ability to move only small distances in a single breeding season would make one think that it would be easy to control the pest and stop it from spreading as far as it has.
But, WE – WE being campers and RVers – have unknowingly contributed to the spread of this invasive creature through our own ignorance and sometimes defiance. The principal means of this spread has been the innocent moving of firewood into uninfested areas.
While this action is necessary to protect all species of ash trees from the spread of this insect, it is often misunderstood by campers and assumed just another panic reaction and excuse for parks and campgrounds to make additional monies by charging sometimes seemingly inflated prices for a few sticks of native firewood.
A camping friend recently bragged to me that he had managed to smuggle into one of our National Forest campgrounds an entire truck toolbox loaded with campfire wood brought from his home. When I asked him if any of the wood he transported was perhaps ash, he could only return a puzzled look and then ask me how he could identify any of it as ash.
Even if the firewood is not ash, it can still harbor dormant larvae of the EAB that has inadvertently come from a woodpile containing infested logs.
Now, I personally pride myself as recognizing tree species pretty well and can easily tell an oak log from an ash log. I also wonder if we are perhaps being a little too cautious as the ban on transporting firewood includes scrap kiln dried pieces from a building construction site. But, does everybody have this knowledge or familiarity with wood types? Who is going to be responsible for “inspecting” firewood being transported to assure that it is not infested ash? Such an inspection would obviously be a daunting task for an already overtaxed network of park rangers and campground owners. It is much simpler and less likely to fail by telling the public, “DO NOT TRANSPORT FIREWOOD – Gather or buy your campfire wood at your destination camping site”.
While the ruling currently only applies to specific eastern states and targets the EAB, it should only make sense to us as responsible campers to forgo the transporting of firewood from any location to another. The cost of purchasing firewood native to the area where we want our campfire is small compared to the environmental loss we experience when an invasive or exotic insect is introduced into a new environment.
Ash Tree identification guide http://www.emeraldashborer.info/files/e2892ash.pdf
View the EAB life cycle at this web site.
Quarantine guide http://www.emeraldashborer.info/firewood.cfm
Map and EAB info http://www.emeraldashborer.info/map.cfm