Cleaning up tree debris in hurricane damaged areas

How to Keep Neighborhood Trees Healthy and Resilient in the Aftermath of Hurricanes

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been taking down countless trees in Texas, Florida, and all the states between them along the Gulf of Mexico. In the aftermath of severe storms like these, trees can get lots of attention and are pointed to as the cause of loss of power and damage to property. However, while some trees do come down in high wind and extreme weather events, the majority of healthy trees survive severe storms, buffer the high winds as the storms come ashore, absorb excess rainfall, and reduce localized flooding.

In the wake of these major storms, it is extremely important to remember that moving storm debris, limbs, and downed trees over long distances can inadvertently spread tree-killing insects to new places. Many areas affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma are under quarantines that specifically prohibit the long-distance movement of tree-based storm debris (including debris that has been cut into pieces of firewood). These quarantines will depend on exact location, and may include restrictions in place for emerald ash borer, imported fire ants, giant african land snail, and citrus greening (Huanglongbing). The southeastern USA also has widespread infestations of laurel wilt, which is not under federal quarantine but can be transported on storm debris as well.

Storm debris from downed trees and branches should be disposed of using one of the following safer ways: brought to a local solid waste facility (i.e. landfill), brought to a licensed city composting facility, brought to a registered storm debris disposal yard (sometimes called a marshalling yard or area), or used on site for personal firewood. Consult local newspapers and storm information to find out which of the disposal options is best in your area as you get ready to clean up your property.

Tree damaged by Hurricane Harvey in Texas 2017: Flickr user Welscor, Creative Commons License

For future storm safety, it is especially important to remember that trees planted near homes and roads need to be properly pruned to minimize potential damage and failure, especially near power lines. When planting new trees, it is helpful to select a species that will not grow too tall and interfere with power lines to minimize future damage. As cities look to replant choosing the right tree and putting the right tree in the right place will create a more sustainable—and storm resistant—landscape for years to come.

Despite the damage trees can cause in extreme weather events, healthy trees in urban and suburban areas are important for a safer and cleaner urban infrastructure. Trees provide the many benefits to both people and wildlife in city settings:

  • Improving water quality by minimizing erosion, slowing the flow of precipitation, and minimizing flooding during heavy rain events
  • Mitigating climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air, regulating local climate by lowering daily temperature variation, and reducing energy expenditure on heating and cooling
  • Providing shade and improving local air quality by removing air pollutants and producing oxygen
  • Creating valuable habitat for wildlife, and shade and a natural environment for city residents

For more information, we recommend visiting:

This blog is based on our popular 2012 blog, The Importance of Trees in Hurricane Sandy

From here to there in New Mexico

Dear Don’t Move Firewood

Can I bring firewood from Albuquerque New Mexico to the Red River area in New Mexico?

Yours, Shannon in the Land of Enchantment

Dear Shannon,

It is legal to bring firewood from Albuquerque to Red River in New Mexico, however, that is well over the suggested distance limit of 50 miles for moving firewood. If it is possible for you to buy local firewood in Red River, or collect firewood in Red River near your destination, that would be better.

Thank you for asking!

For information on New Mexico’s firewood recommendations and regulations, see our New Mexico State Summary

Selling firewood in Tennessee

We love getting questions from you, our readers, on your firewood issues!

Dear Don’t Move Firewood,

My husband sells firewood to the people that camp at (US Army Corps administered campground in Tennessee). We are a mile from the camp grounds and get all our wood locally. We season it for 2 years in the sun. Will the people who purchase through us no longer be able to take our firewood into the camp grounds with the new Army Corps firewood rules? Thank you for your help. 

Yours, Beth in Tennessee

Dear Beth,

Yes, the new policy as set by the Army Corps of Engineers in Tennessee is that firewood that is not packaged and stamped as formally certified as heat-treated by USDA APHIS is not permitted within their campgrounds, so your seasoned firewood would not be allowed. I do realize this may be a frustrating policy for a firewood vendor as close are you are to the park. If you are interested in learning how to become a business that sells heat treated firewood, I suggest you contact the USDA APHIS offices in Tennessee to speak with them. Thank you!

UPDATE!

Dear Don’t Move Firewood,

Thank you so much for your prompt attention to our question. My husband’s log splitter broke and we don’t want to purchase another one if we can’t sell next year. Now we know. Thanks.

Yours, Beth in Tennessee

Disposing of termite infested firewood

Time for a new installment in our occasional advice column series, Dear Don’t Move Firewood, this time from a homeowner in California!

Dear Don’t Move Firewood,

We live in (city removed) near San Diego and discovered today that we have drywood termites living in our firewood, both inside and outside our home. The wood has been there, unused, for 5 or 6 years, and our termite inspector suggested either burning it, or, since the summer is hot enough already, bagging it in strong garbage bags and throwing it out with the usual trash pickup. Is this okay to do? Thank you!

Yours, Benjamin from California

Dear Benjamin,

I am sorry to hear about the termites! I agree with your idea that summer is hot enough without a bonfire, and wildfire risks are also so high this time of year. Yes, you definitely could bag it and throw it out with regular trash pickup if you wanted. As an alternative that is a bit more ecologically friendly, you might be able to get a green waste bin from a local municipal compost or trash service. They would take your firewood and turn it into harmless, termite-free compost, which is probably better than it just taking up space in the landfill. Try searching online for any sort of local business that accepts green waste for mulch, compost, or soil amendments. Good luck, and thank you for asking!

Firewood from Ohio to Maine

The Dear Don’t Move Firewood advice column is back, with real questions from real people (often slightly edited to ensure they are anonymous).

Dear Don’t Move Firewood,

I’m going camping in another state which is Maine. I’m from Ohio. Can I take wood for camp fires from my own wood pile?

Yours, Bruce from Ohio

Dear Bruce,

It is illegal to take any out of state firewood into Maine, as per Maine state law. It is also violation of the emerald ash borer (EAB) federal quarantine to take it from Ohio (inside the EAB quarantine area) into Maine (which is outside the EAB quarantine area). Last but not least, in general, the rule of thumb is not to move firewood more than 50 miles- and it is a lot more than 50 miles from Ohio to Maine.

Instead of bringing firewood from your own wood pile in Ohio, please plan to buy wood after your arrival in Maine, ideally near your camping destination. Thank you!

For more information on Maine’s firewood laws, please visit our Maine State Summary page