Exotic Forest Pests a Threat to Our Mountains

Guest Editorial from Jason Love, Chair, Western North Carolina Public Lands Council


Exotic Forest Pests a Threat to Our Mountains


I am writing on behalf of the Western North Carolina Public Lands Council, an advisory group appointed by the Governor of North Carolina, whose mission is to promote the protection, conservation, and sustainability of western North Carolina’s natural and economic resources.  The Council meets regularly with representatives of both federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and N.C. State Parks, to discuss issues that impact public lands and the citizens of western North Carolina. 


Recently the Council has learned about the threat of forest pests such as the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, and thousand cankers disease.  These pests are not native to the U.S. so our trees have no natural defenses against them.  Moreover, these pests can be transported great distances through the movement of firewood. 


It is conservatively estimated that if these forest pests were to become established in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, they would have the potential to wipe out 50% of the forested area in the park.  Massachusetts has had to spend over $100 million just to combat the Asian longhorned beetle; entire forests, including over ten thousand trees in residential areas, had to be cut down and ground into fine mulch. The Asian longhorned beetle infestation in Ohio, discovered in 2011, has already necessitated the removal of well over 60 thousand trees from backyards, parks, and wooded areas.


We have witnessed the decline or loss of several of our native trees to exotic pests: American chestnut (chestnut blight), eastern hemlock (hemlock wooly adelgid), and flowering dogwood (dogwood anthracnose), just to name a few.  This new suite of forest pests has the potential to wreak additional damage: impacting the wood products industry, harming tourism, decimating our mountain forests, and costing taxpayers billions.


Because of the dire threat that these pests pose to our forests, Great Smoky Mountains National Park currently only allows certified heat-treated firewood inside the park.  Campers must either gather wood inside the park or purchase certified heat-treated wood from over eighty local vendors.  The Council applauds these efforts to protect western North Carolina’s “crown jewel” which is also the most visited National Park in our nation.


Living in an increasingly connected world means that new forest pests will undoubtedly be introduced into the U.S. and North Carolina.  But we can take measures to prevent most of these introductions:

  • Don’t move firewood from other states.
  • If you are camping on public lands, consider using local wood or wood that is certified as being heat-treated (it burns hotter and cleaner anyway).
  • If you heat your home with firewood, please use firewood that is harvested locally.

And lastly, please pass the word to others that these pests pose a real threat to our forest.  You can learn more at DontMoveFirewood.org.



Jason Love, Chair

Western North Carolina Public Lands Council


Are pinecones bad to move like firewood?

Dear Don't Move Firewood,

Can I take pine cones with me when I travel?


Pine Cone Lover


Dear Pine Cone Lover,

Pine cones can carry lots of pests of pine trees, so this is a good question.


When you talk about any sort of insect-spreading risk, it is important to be realistic to the actual threat. For instance, in all likelyhood, it is fine to take a few pine cones with you from the forest to your house or cabin for the purposes of table decorating. The chance that just a few cones could spread a pest or disease- especially if they are isolated in your house- is low. However, when you are done, the cones should be disposed of in the trash- not put outside in the backyard nor composted. By throwing them away in the trash, it becomes a lot less likely that pests of pines could emerge into the surrounding natural habitat later on.


In terms of moving large numbers of pine cones, that is not a good idea. Like I said before, many types of pests of pine can be found in cones- which you could then be exposing to pines in new places. Pests like the western conifer seed bug, various species of cone maggots, and others can emerge from cones. So please, don't move large amounts of pine cones- that's not a good idea and even could be in violations of quarantines in some areas.


Thanks for asking!