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Filed under: Comfort at Camp, Nature & Wildlife, Outdoor Recreation & Hiking, Preparation & Readiness, State & National Parks, Tent Campgrounds

A Really Nasty Bug

December 28, 2011 by · 6 Comments 


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.

Adult EAB with wings open

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.

Ash Tree Leaf Structure

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, WEWE 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.

The USDA, as well as other regulatory agencies, is now enforcing quarantines and fines for transporting firewood in the above-mentioned states.

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.

Mature Ash Tree

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

View the EAB life cycle at this web site.

Quarantine guide

Map and EAB info




6 Responses to “A Really Nasty Bug”
  1. Corey says:

    Great tip, prof. I will admit that I have been guilty of packing firewood on camping trips, but will mend my ways after this!

  2. Bob Reising says:

    Unfortunately, park operators have used this to gouge the public with the price and quantity of their wood. Fight back by not buying it, not by sneaking in your own. We have had many nice fires over the years but I also don’t miss all the smoke and smelly hair lying in bed at night. I also miss the trees that have become victims of this invasion. Let’s all do our share to fight this pest.

  3. Janet says:

    Thanks for the info. I knew no facts about the EAB, but I did know you weren’t supposed to transport firewood! And I too have been guilty of this in the PAST! New behavior in 2012!

  4. Jon says:

    Please do not transport firewood from one state to the other. Yes it may cost you a little more but do you really want to spread this pest to other states. I live in Michigan and do not take wood from one county to the other. If going to Michigan’s UP you must leave all firewood behind before going over the bridge.

  5. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Randy,

    Thanks, for a really important article, but I doubt it will help the quarintine very much…

  6. Professor95 says:

    Bob Reising wrote:
    “Unfortunately, park operators have used this to gouge the public with the price and quantity of their wood.”

    Yes Bob, we too have encountered this unfortunate practice. National Parks in our area use contracted vendors or concessionaires to provide ice, wood, groceries, etc. One such vendor asked us to pay $8 for a bundle of five pieces of split pine firewood that would not even get a good campfire gong. A typical night’s campfire could cost anywhere from $24 to $32 at their prices for wood – not worth it to us. But, I noticed campers buying one of the red mesh firewood filled bags from the vendor, using the firewood contained and then refilling the bags from a secret store in their camper. This gave the appearance that they were using “bought” wood to the rangers driving by and checking on campers. This is not an answer or solution for getting around “gouge” prices.

    We have stopped at some campgrounds that maintain a stack of firewood and actually give it to campers or ask for a small donation to be dropped in a cash box mounted on a post. Others allow campers to cut downed wood free of charge and even haul fallen trees and brush to a single location so campers can easily clean the pile out. This is a good deal for both parties and the environment – especially if you have children to gather the wood and bring it to you. They love doing it and can stay occupied for hours!

    We are doing one of two things to give us a campfire without getting gouged by vendors or breaking the law by transporting firewood. The first is a small, portable LPG campfire unit called the “Little Red Campfire”. The initial cost can be $99 to $150 (depending upon what is on sale) plus a propane tank. We use a small refillable 2 gallon tank. To our amazement, it really is a great little campfire for the two of us. It takes up little space in the storage bay. The second is to buy manufactured kiln dried compressed wood blocks during the winter months and save them for the camping season. I wrote about finding some of these at Tractor Supply store a few weeks back. They burn a long time, contain no paraffin or chemicals and are clean. They have been OK’ed by parks we have visited as being bug free and safe to transport. “Sometimes” if you can catch it just right at the end of the fireplace season you can get some fantastic deals on remaining stock – seasonal changes mean stores need floor space for new merchandise. Last year I bought 20 packages at a Home Depot that had been $12 a box for $1 a box. Of course, you must have the room to store them – which we do.

    So, I agree – DO NOT pay inflated prices for inferior wood at campgrounds. DO NOT transport your own felled or cut firewood. Stock up on safe, kiln dried pressed wood logs, use a portable gas campfire or gather local downed wood.. There are safe alternatives!

    Randy (Prof95)

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