Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
Nov. 9, 2021

Firewood: Keeping It Local!

Firewood: Keeping It Local!
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Castro podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge

As daylight shortens and temperatures fall, many of us in the Catskills turn to our wood stoves to help keep warm. "Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice," the old adage goes. But if you don't chop your own wood? Make sure it was chopped locally! In this episode, New York State Department of Environmental Protection's Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health Bureau Chief Justin Perry joined us for a conversation on firewood, Catskills trees, and the threats our forests face. 

Check out the DEC's new film, Uninvited: The Spread of Invasive Species

Thanks to Dixon Roadside and the Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway for their support!

--- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast/support


Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via https://otter.ai

Brett Barry  0:03  
Welcome to Kaatscast, the biweekly podcast featuring history, interviews, arts and culture, sustainability, and the outdoors in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. As daylight shortens and temperatures fall, many of us in the Catskills turn to our wood stoves to help keep warm. Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice. The old adage goes, but if you don't chop your own wood, make sure it was chopped locally. Long distance firewood can be a carrier have long distance, pests and diseases. To get the scoop, we went right to the top.

Justin Terry  0:43  
I'm Justin Terry, the chief of the Bureau of Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health here at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Brett Barry  0:51  
Shopping locally is always a nice idea, but for firewood, it's a mandate. I asked Justin to explain.

Justin Terry  0:59  
Typically, the way the firewood program works and referencing part 192.5 of the New York State Regulations. The firewood regulations stipulate that wood that doesn't get the heat treatment to basically sterilize it from insects and disease should be purchased within 50 miles of the place for which it will be used, so that's really the idea of purchase local.

Brett Barry  1:26  
Now, this is all to stop the spread of invasive insects...mostly?

Justin Terry  1:30  
Correct. It's both insects and actually diseases as well. Firewood has been known to be a vector of insects and disease to other locations where it normally would not go.

Brett Barry  1:42  
Is that DEC regulation (New York State Law)? Where does that come down from and how does the DEC enforce it?

Justin Terry  1:48  
Environmental conservation law stipulates that the department has the ability to develop regulations to control the spread of forest and tree insects and disease; and through that law, the state developed regulations at the Department of Environment Conservation to reduce or eliminate the threat of the spread of invasive pests through the transportation of untreated firewood across state borders and across significant distances, so the regulation is part of the department's regs.

Brett Barry  2:21  
Is it enforceable? Is it something that never comes up in terms of being able to bring anyone to task for violating this?

Justin Terry  2:27  
Yeah, the part of the regulations allows for any individual that wishes to actually transport firewood less than 50 miles, so for instance, if you harvested some firewood off of a neighbor's property, and you wanted to bring it back to your house, and it's only just a few miles down the road, one of the things that the department offers, and you can find it on our public website is a self-issued transportation certificate that outlines who you are, where the wood was sourced from and where you're going with the woods, so the intention there is, of course, should the individual whose transporting the firewood get pulled over by any law enforcement, mainly as through our environmental conservation officers. If they inspect that information, you have that self-issued certificate, you're within the regulations, so you're fine, and a lot of times what we have done in the past is we've actually set up checkpoints; usually in the summertime close to the camping season, not so much to ticket those that might not be aware of the regulations, but to confiscate the firewood and through that process, educate the public about the firewood regulations and why they're in place.

Brett Barry  3:35  
And there's an easy way to destroy confiscated firewood, right?

Justin Terry  3:38  
I mean the obvious response is sure you can burn it, which is...which is good. But, of course, you can imagine the air quality concerns what we typically do on those checkpoints is we have chippers on hand, so we would chip the wood up.

Brett Barry  3:51  
And does that take care of the any invasive? So I would imagine that summer getting through anyway.

Justin Terry  3:56  
There's actually criteria spelled out within the firewood regulations that says that chips that are one inch or smaller in any direction for the most part; destroy the potential for any insect (larvae or other insects) that are within the firewood, but also a lot of those pathogens because this is also a concern we have with the spread of pathogens like oak wilt and other things. The chipping actually allows the wood to dry out or not be very amicable to...

Brett Barry  4:08  

Justin Terry  4:10  
Yeah, right. Exactly. For the...for the diseases. Yeah.

Brett Barry  4:32  
Can you give some examples of the types of invasive species that are hiding in our firewood, you know, some of the more popular species of wood that we're using and what types of bugs are getting into those trees?

Justin Terry  4:43  
Absolutely. Some of the major insects that we're concerned with that have the potential of being spread through firewood movement are things like Asian long-horned beetle; first discovered in the United States in 1996 down in New York City and they're really effective at burrowing deep into host trees and they have a huge range of host trees that they like to feed off of, so they really are good at utilizing the movement of firewood as a means of going to new places. Emerald ash borer is one particular species that people are probably very familiar with. Scientists have witnessed a clear association with a movement of firewood and the spread of emerald ash borer or EAB; in addition to that oak wilt, which is actually a disease that can be spread through the movement of firewood, and typically what makes firewood a good vector is that it usually moves with bark still on it, big chunks of wood, that type of thing that can move, so that's why we really focus on the firewood issue as a control method to prevent the spread of invasive pests.

Brett Barry  5:53  
Is the spotted lantern fly of species that travels and firewood as well? I know that's becoming more of a concern here in the Catskills.

Justin Terry  5:59  
Yeah, spotted lanternfly is an interesting pest. It will not necessarily bed itself within the firewood per se; it although it does and can feed on trees; its host tree that it prefers the most is the Atlantis or Tree of Heaven, but one of the things that spotted lanternfly does is it has a nasty habit of laying eggs on all sorts of rough material and besides of trees and incidentally eventually could become firewood itself; a convenient way for the spotted lanternfly to spread to other locations.

Brett Barry  6:33  
Are there specific examples linking the movement of firewood to a particular invasive species really taking hold and decimating an area?

Justin Terry  6:40  
Yeah. Well, both emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle, I think Asian long-horned beetle in particular has some very clear connection between it and where it pops up. We've seen evidence in both New York State, but also in Massachusetts and Ohio, and I believe North Carolina, where they saw a strong connection between it...showing up in a relatively rural or forested location, and there's been a strong connection with the firewood and those pop-ups; now we've also seen it in New York State with emerald ash borer. You know, when it was first discovered in 2009, in New York State and Randolph, New York, which is Western New York, there was some strong evidence as it spread out from there and popped up that there was probably an association to the movement of firewood through recreational use.

Brett Barry  7:34  
After the break...climate change, tips for landowners, and the pests and diseases; Justin worries about most. But first, a word from our sponsors. Kaatscast is supported by Dixon Roadside, serving up a unique twist on comfort food using fresh ingredients sourced from the bountiful farms and small businesses of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley. Open for takeout with a heated patio and indoor seating in Woodstock, New York, and by the 52-mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway; following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the Central Catskills. For maps, itineraries, and links to area restaurants, shops, and accommodations, visit sceniccatskills.com. Is there an invasive that you're most concerned about right now?

Justin Terry  8:32  
Boy, I'm concerned with all of them. Asian long-horned beetle is a big one because of its huge host range and its potential for significantly impacting our forests here in New York State. We're also concerned with some of the diseases actually that are really scaring us one particular I mentioned oak will; another disease that we're in the very early stages of trying to figure out what the main causal agent for is what we're calling beech leaf disease. Beech trees are significant tree species throughout New York State and are very important wildlife species and we're really concerned because there's an association with this beech leaf disease and a nematode within the leaf itself. We're not sure what's going on there and we're seeing a significant spread of those mechanisms that are killing the beech trees, so we're really terrified if we lose our beech trees, it's another forest masked food source that would really hurt wildlife that have been so dependent on that tree mast nuts, I guess you could say. Historically, one of the bigger mass producers in our forests in the Southern Tier of New York State; people are probably very familiar with or at least may have been familiar with this; our American chestnuts, which as we know, we've had very little if any of American chestnuts left in New York due to the spread of the chestnut blight back in the turn of the twentieth century.

Brett Barry  10:01  
Now in terms of our own properties, let's just take emerald ash borer as an example. I've heard that it's probably a good idea to just take the tree down at the first sign of infection and perhaps use it for firewood in your own home, rather than leave it up and allow that to spread.

Justin Terry  10:17  
Yeah. Well, one of the interesting things about ash trees in particular is when they die...regardless of how they die. They tend to let us foresters called fall apart very easily; they become hazard, so one of the things that we do recommend is that if you do see an ash tree that's showing symptoms of emerald ash borer and there are characteristics that can really present themselves the epicormic branching or the branching that's growing out of the trunk of the trees. Woodpecker damage; when the woodpeckers attack the tree, we call it blonding, indicating that the woodpeckers are going after the larvae, if you see EAB evidence within your ash trees, you may want to consider taking the tree down before it dies and becomes very unsafe; typically what happens is once it dies, the roots rot out quick and the tree becomes tippy and the branches are very weak and are not safe to climb up into if you need to have (a) arborist take it down, so that's usually why we recommend getting the trees down early. If it isn't taken down through a commercial means where the arborist has the ability to chip the tree, certainly landowners can take the tree down and earn it and firewood on their own property to get rid of both the tree and the emerald ash borer that's in it.

Brett Barry  11:36  
I have a lot of hemlocks on my property and we have the woolly adelgid. Is that something that burning takes care of or does that spread them further?

Justin Terry  11:44  
No. Certainly...as you can imagine, hemlocks typically are not commonly used for firewood, so we're less concerned with the firewood transportation associated with hemlocks in particular and the spread of hemlock woolly adelgid. Typically, hemlock woolly adelgid are spread, if not naturally through wind or through migratory birds as an example. They also can spread through nursery crops. In other words, you go to a nursery, you buy a hemlock tree, you don't realize it has hemlock woolly adelgid on it, so those are the typical areas where we find hemlock woolly adelgid being vectored into new parts of New York State. It is a major issue in the Catskills. The Catskills that seen him like woolly adelgid for quite some time; unfortunate results are a lot of those we call ghost forests of dead hemlock scattered throughout, so it is a major concern of ours. We do work very actively to try to support research into the long term strategy of controlling hemlock woolly adelgid through bio control, so that's actually using mother nature itself to combat the hemlock woolly adelgid through other insects that might feed on it.

Brett Barry  12:56  
And for infected branches that are removed, is it better to chip it or burn it or something else?

Justin Terry  13:01  
Yeah. Chipping and burning or frankly, just leaving it on the ground and that can rot away. Typically, the movement of hemlock woolly adelgid is during a very short period of time in the mid-spring, when we call it the crawlers; hatch from the eggs and move throughout the tree to find a new spot to feed. Once they find a new spot and they establish themselves in that spot, they don't move after that point, so if you do have a branch that's infected hemlock woolly adelgid, and it falls to the ground, typically, you could just leave it there and they won't survive, of course, for very long because that branch no longer is going to be feeding. I get that point.

Brett Barry  13:39  
So, you know, the spread of invasive species is nothing new, or at least nothing new since we've been traveling the globe, right?

Justin Terry  13:44  

Brett Barry  13:45  
So aside from keeping our firewood local, what other suggestions do you have for New York residents and homeowners and property owners to avoid the spread of the species?

Justin Terry  13:56  
One of the things that we rely on most with the prevention of the spread of invasive species is basically knowledge and education in the subject area of invasive species. What are they? What should we be looking out for? We try to promote that knowledge to the public as much as we can. One of the means that we do that is a documentary created by the department called, "Uninvited: The Spread of Invasive Species," so having the public aware of what invasive species are the different types of invasive species, and then taking part in local community efforts and other efforts to learn more about how they can control it on their own property how they can prevent the...and vectors themselves of the spread of invasive species, either through the movement of firewood or, you know, anything else that might be carrying invasive species when they travel around. We do have different volunteer programs: Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management Networks throughout New York State and the Catskills; there's the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Program or CRISP, so we try to really advocating people getting involved locally and learning more about what the different partners and opportunities there are for doing something about it.

Brett Barry  15:08  
And then I'm assuming our warmer winters aren't helping to keep them in check, you know.

Justin Terry  15:13  
Certainly, climate change has a significant impact on the ability for many invasive species to be more successful now in certain areas than they may have been tens, if not hundreds of years earlier. Hemlock woolly adelgid is a good example. It takes a lot to control hemlock woolly adelgid once it's established, but one of the things that at least may slow the spread of hemlock woolly adelgid in the past is extremely cold temperatures for significant amount of time. Well, you take away that extremely cold temperatures and then you take away the significant amount of time being cold, you reduce the likelihood of that cold negatively impacting the population.

Brett Barry  15:56  
What's your feeling for the future of New York's forests?

Justin Terry  16:00  
The positive part about it is I believe that mother nature is pretty darn resilient, the forest will continue to change as they have forever and they've dealt with change forever. I think we will always be contending with the threat of invasive species. I think that we are becoming much more knowledgeable about how to deal with those invasive species like...for instance, the partnership programs that we have. We work very closely with the department of agriculture markets and our federal partners; also, the forest service and USDA and others. We can't do it alone, so we rely so much on all of our partners to know what's going on and how to respond. Our knowledge base is increased so that has helped us recognize when we discover a new invasive species, you know, it is our responsibility to make changes in how we move firewood or do other activities that could be the vector for that new invader. I guess you could say.

Brett Barry  16:59  
Justin, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Justin Terry  17:02  
You got it, Brett.

Brett Barry  17:06  
Our thanks to Justin Terry and the New York State DEC. Check out their documentary, "Uninvited: The Spread of Invasive Species," available now on the NYSDEC YouTube channel. Firewood chopping and stacking sounds were recorded by our production intern, Keith Kortright. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Thanks again to our local sponsors and to you our listeners for your contributions to the show. If you'd like to contribute, just click "Support" at kaatscast.com and don't forget to click that "Follow" or "Subscribe" button for uninterrupted delivery every two weeks. Until next time, I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.