KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Submitted) -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are hosting public meetings to provide information about firewood pests and forest threats.
Meetings will be held on Monday, December 8 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center Administrative Building near Cherokee, NC and on Tuesday, December 9 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Sugarlands Visitor Center Training Room near Gatlinburg, TN.
Non-native, tree-killing insects and diseases can be introduced through firewood transported from infested areas. A variety of destructive pests lay eggs or stowaway in firewood. Insects from Asia and Europe have the potential to devastate over 30 species of hardwood trees native to the park. Park officials say movement of untreated firewood has been implicated in the spread of gypsy moth, Dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer, thousand canker disease, Asian longhorned beetle, Sirex woodwasp, golden spotted oak borer, and other native and non-native insect and disease complexes.
Pest management experts say infestations threaten forests with widespread tree mortality that could devastate wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and scenic views. The park service says use of firewood that has been heat treated eliminates the threat posed by these pests through the movement and use of wood in campfires.
Park officials will present information at the meetings about forest pest threats, certified heat-treated wood availability, and how the park proposes to address the threat through a new firewood regulation change. The public will have an opportunity to visit staffed information stations, ask questions, and provide comments.
Park rangers have been working over the past year with numerous partners representing federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and universities to mitigate the risks associated with movement of firewood including a public education campaign. The working team developed an informational handout that was provided to all Smokies campers throughout the summer along with providing information through public programs and regionally placed billboards. The team also identified and mapped over 80 locations near the park that provide heat-treated firewood.
The park is proposing to reduce the threat of forest pests by changing park regulations to allow only heat-treated firewood to be brought into the park. If the proposal is adopted, beginning in March 2015, only firewood that is bundled and displays a certification stamp by the USDA or a state department of agriculture will be allowed for use in park campgrounds. Heat-treated wood will be available to purchase from concessioners in many of the campgrounds as well as from private businesses in the communities around the park. In addition, visitors may still collect dead and down wood in the park for campfires.
National parks throughout the Appalachian region have taken action to limit the spread of insect pests in firewood including, in many cases, the banning of imported firewood. For the past three years, the Smokies has prohibited the importation of firewood from areas quarantined by the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in accordance with federal law. Current park regulations prohibit the importation of wood and wood products from states (or specific counties in states) quarantined for insects such as emerald ash borer or tree diseases such as thousand canker disease.
A final decision on adopting the new regulation is expected by the end of the year. The public may continue to submit comments by: mail at 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or comment cards available at visitor centers and campgrounds.