An International Menace, Firewood From Home

I used to tell campers to bring firewood from home, but I don’t do that anymore. I used  to say it would be less expensive to bring firewood than to buy it in or near camp, but that advice is no longer common sensible or responsible. You might save a few pennies, but the cost to the environment could be horrendous. On our cross-country drive this summer, stopping at national, provincial, and state camps along the way, we saw signs all over warning campers DO NOT CARRY FIREWOOD FROM ONE AREA TO ANOTHER. In New York State, the signs said, “Love New York,” and told campers to leave fallen wood at home. In Michigan, a brochure was headlined, “You May Be Carrying Unwelcome Cargo.” At a state park in Minnesota we took a picture of a big red sign that read, BURN IT WHERE YOU BUY IT. In North Dakota, Montana, and up in Ontario, too, there were similar signs, to warn campers to burn wood where it was bought or where it was found if it came from home. Last summer, driving through British Columbia, we saw signs with the same message: don’t transport firewood from one area to another.

What is the international menace that all these states and provinces are worried about? Living in the bark of trees, there are a lot of different insects that are serious threats to the forests of these states and province. In British Columbia, we drove by miles and miles of dead pine trees, killed, we were told, by the population explosion of a pine beetle that lays its eggs in the bark of affected trees. In the eastern quarter of the United States, New York and Pennsylvania to North and South Dakota, Illinois and Indiana, it’s the larvae of a little insect, the Emerald Ash Borer, that lays its eggs under the bark of pine and other trees.  In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a special project, Slow the Spread (STS) is intended to slow the advance of the gypsy moth that lays its eggs on trees. Here in Washington State, where I live, the daily paper just this morning, August 7, had an article warning people to look out for the gypsy moth; it said 22,000 green cardboard traps had been set out in the state. According to this article, the gypsy moth is considered the worst forest pest in the United States, but let’s not argue about whether my pest is worse (or not as bad) as your pest. An infestation of any of these insects could be started by a camper unknowingly transporting infected logs from an infested area to an un-infested area.

You can learn more about these pests at these and other websites: or

But meanwhile, back to your campfire. What can you use if you can’t bring wood from home? First thing you might consider is not having any campfire at all. We rarely build a fire anymore when we camp; our gas stoves cook very efficiently, and we enjoy the night sky and the stars that you can’t always see when a big fire lights up the night. When we do decide to have a fire, on a night for S’mores, for example, we don’t try to build the biggest fire in camp. A small campfire cooks marshmallows just as easily, maybe with kids along even more safely, than a big fire. Then we bring from home scraps of wood left from old woodworking projects, lumber  from planks that were cut wrong, mock-ups for bigger projects, etc. I’m talking about lumber with  no bark on it, not pieces of trees. Sometimes you can find this kind of discarded lumber at a construction site; ask first before you take anything. I have seen some campers using old shipping pallets, broken up into usable pieces; again, ask before you help yourself from the heap outside the store.  If you need the fire for cooking, buy charcoal instead of wood; it heats hotter and more evenly, and the coals last longer. If your fire is just for sociability, buy pressed wood “logs” designed for outdoor use; these products use materials that used to go to waste, burned at the sawmill because there was no market for it. There are lots of ways you can have a fire without endangering the environment. What else can you do besides carrying logs from home? I’d like to know about it.

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