Maine Forest Service issues emergency order banning all out-of state firewood, to help prevent spread of invasive insects such as Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer

AUGUSTA, Maine , September 1, 2010 (press release) – Maine Forest Service Director Alec Giffen on Wednesday signed an Emergency Order banning all out-of-state firewood in an effort to protect Maine's forests from the introduction or spread of dangerous insects and diseases.

Calling Maine's forests "undeniably important" and a resource that "defines the quality of life in Maine," Giffen said the order implements a law passed earlier this year by the Maine Legislature to help prevent the spread of such invasive insects as Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) and emerald ash borer (EAB), already infecting states around Maine.

The Maine Forest Service (MFS) director also announced the implementation of a three-day, out-of-state firewood exchange operation to be run this Labor Day Weekend at the northbound Kittery rest area on the Maine Turnpike.

A team of MFS forest rangers will direct out-of-state visitors with firewood to the rest area in order to exchange the wood for Maine-processed firewood. The out-of-state firewood will be destroyed properly to prevent the spread of invasive insects or disease.

Commissioner Eliza Townsend of the Maine Department of Conservation, which oversees the Maine Forest Service, urged out-of-state visitors not to import firewood and to participate in the firewood exchange if by chance they do bring any firewood into the state.

"Our visitors value Maine's vast forests," Commissioner Townsend said. "We appreciate their help in keeping them healthy."

With 17 million acres of forest land, Maine is the most forested state in the nation, with about 90 percent of its land mass covered by woodlands. Maine’s forest-product industry has a $10.1 billion impact on the state’s economy and makes up 36 percent of all manufacturing sales in the state. The forest industry employs about 20,000 people in Maine and is the largest manufacturing payroll in the state.

"It's very important to us to be good stewards of this resource," Giffen stressed during a press conference. He said the possible infection of Maine's forests by invasive species could affect not only the state's forest industry, but also its traditions, including American Indian basket-making, which uses ash wood and could be destroyed by the emerald ash borer.

The state law banning out-of-state firewood, introduced by State Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, was passed this past legislative session. Giffen emphasized that to date the MFS's efforts have focused on education and information, rather than enforcement of the ban.

The educational effort has been a collaborative one, involving several MFS divisions, including MFS forest rangers, entomologists and foresters; the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which has implemented the out-of-state firewood ban at state campgrounds; the Maine Department of Agriculture, which has spearheaded volunteer educational efforts; and the U.S. Forest Service.

Ann Gibbs, Maine state horticulturist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, said neither ALB nor EAB has been found yet in Maine. She pointed out that most discoveries of invasive species have been made by the general public, such as the discovery of ALB in Worcester, Mass. She said her agency "is working to get cadres of volunteers to help and look for the pests."

"We really need to rely on the general public," the state official said. " ... It's really important that we find out early."

Dave Struble, MFS state entomologist, compared awareness about the interstate transportation of firewood to the increased awareness over the years of wearing seatbelts in cars, saying, "This is about changing behavior."

"It's far better to get the message out to where people come from," the state entomologist said.

Giffen and Struble later commented that it took some time to develop the ban regulations after the legislation was passed, and though it seemed late in the summer season for their implementation, the regulations still will affect out-of-state "leaf-peepers," tourists who come to view Maine's fall foliage. They also will affect sportsmen and those with camps in Maine. Struble noted that the effort now "sets us up for next year."

The state entomologist added that three other drop-off sites will be established at MFS regional offices at West Paris, Gray, and Bolton Hill (Augusta), where out-of-state firewood can be left. No firewood exchange, however, will take place at those sites.

MFS Project Forester Pete Lammert suggested that those folks with camps in Maine should chat with their out-of-state neighbors who also have camps to make sure they are aware of the out-of-state firewood ban.

MFS Regional Forest Ranger Jeff Currier, who will head the Labor Day Weekend firewood exchange, emphasized that the agency was conducting an educational and informational detail. Outlining the details of the operation, he said, "Our purpose is to intercept and inform visitors." He added that "at some point, the process will become enforcement."

"This is serious; this is significant," Currier said.

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