Spring yard cleaning tips

Spring yard cleaning season is well under way, and here at Don’t Move Firewood we’d like to share some pointers on how you can best dispose of your yard waste to minimize the spread of invasive species. It is important to realize that all types of yard waste- including tree branches, brush, leaves, and clippings- can potentially harbor invasive insects and diseases. Therefore, if you dispose of it incorrectly, you could unintentionally start a new pest infestation.

For smaller yard debris such as leafy thin branches, evergreen needles and cones, green clippings, or brushy materials, it is best to either let it break down naturally on site (whether through backyard composting, or just a standard brush pile) or through municipal composting (if available). In some areas under quarantine for emerald ash borer or Asian longhorned beetle, there are specific wood disposal areas called "marshalling yards" for safely disposing of quarantined woody waste items. It is NOT advisable to use this material for fill on other properties, and of course it is never a good idea to dump it or otherwise dispose of it illegally.

For woody materials, such as tree trunks or medium-to-larger branches, these can either be chipped on site for mulch, bucked and split into firewood for use on site, or brought to a municipal composting facility (if available).

Because pest infestations can take years to be recognized by the authorities, let alone homeowners, it is critical to remember that even trees that appear healthy could be harboring harmful organisms. Even well seasoned firewood should be used locally- preferably on site- and not taken long distances for camping.

Many states have regulations or quarantines relating to the movement of firewood. For a complete map of firewood regulations, visit our State by State Map.

Here are some tips for what to do with fallen branches or tree trunks on your property:

  • Make it into firewood! Logs and cut branches should be split and dried in a covered stack for at least six months (and preferably longer) to “season” it. Properly dried “seasoned” firewood burns hotter and creates less air pollution.
  • If you don’t want to keep this firewood on site, don’t be tempted to take it with you when camping this spring or summer. Instead, you can give it to your next-door neighbor for their home heating use, or burn or chip it on site, or dispose of it at a municipal composting facility or a quarantined area marshalling yard.
  • Hire a tree service or rent a tree chipper to shred your fallen trees and branches on site into mulch to use in your own garden beds and landscaping projects.
  • If a yard waste recycling or municipal composting program is not available- and you cannot leave the materials on site to break down naturally nor do you want to make it into firewood- your brush, logs, and branches should be disposed of in a local landfill.

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?

Yours,

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!