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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Lifestyle‹  ›EN‹   –  07.08.2012

Burn after reading

Going camping in a State or National Park invariably includes huddling around a crackling campfire. While the romance of campfires invokes fond memories for most, there is a new, darker aspect to this time-honored tradition: it could kill trees (and we’re not talking about the ones you’re already burning).

campfire in state parkWho can resist the smell of wood fires collectively rising around late afternoon in a State Park campground? Campfires do so much for us: they provide warmth and security, are a great way to cook food, and they keep biting insects at bay. Most of all, they convey a sense of romance as we share stories, songs or just plain old memories while relaxing around the crackling flames together.

Lately, those same innocent campfires also have become a source of grave concern for the state and national forest departments. Thousands (or millions?) of campers crisscross the country each summer in search of new camping experiences, often bringing their own firewood along – thus unknowingly spreading a host of potential killers.

Hitching a ride on firewood transported by campers is one of the main ways for insect pests to conquer new territory. Of course, we are mostly unaware that bringing wood from, say, New York to Maine could help the spread of some highly destructive invasive species, such as the Asian longhorned beetle or the emerald ash borer. Their eggs or larvae may be hidden under the bark of infested trees or deep inside the logs, only to emerge at their new destination where they can attack and infest the host trees that so far have been spared from this deadly invasion…

That’s why many parks ban the importation of firewood from other states and ask guests to buy their supply locally instead. And with good reason, because once these species take hold and start to spread, it is often too late for effective control and eradication measures. The numbers speak for themselves (as found on the website of the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation):

  • Over the past 10-15 years, exotic insects like Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly adelgid have killed millions of trees in cities and woodlots from Long Island, New York to upper Michigan.

  • Costs to federal, state and local budgets have exceeded $100 million for eradication efforts, tree removals and disposal and replacement of city street trees.

  • The USDA estimates that over 30 million ash trees have already been killed by the emerald ash borer in Michigan alone, with additional millions dead or dying in the Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada. In urban settings, this presents liability concerns and may require significant expenditures. Recent research projects that the costs to communities for dealing with municipal ash trees killed by the emerald ash borer will exceed $10 Billion for removal and disposal, plus additional costs to restore urban street trees.

The cost of fighting invasive species is staggering and yet we seem to fight a losing battle. Which begs the question: why bother? In an interconnected world that is increasingly characterized by high-speed travel and global transportation networks, how can we possibly halt the spread of species - good or bad - around the globe? We may slow the process down, but eventually it will catch up with us. Here and there, nature will develop resistant species, yet on the whole we need to be prepared to pay the price of changing eco-systems as the toll for doing global business. Perhaps it makes more sense to invest those millions of eradication dollars for something with more of an environmental impact – like renewable energy, for example?