Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are proposing changes that will help protect park forests by further limiting the type of firewood brought into the park. Non-native, tree-killing insects and diseases can unknowingly be introduced into the park through firewood transported from infested areas. New infestations threaten our forests with widespread tree mortality that could devastate wildlife habitat, park biodiversity, and scenic views.
The park is proposing to reduce this threat by changing park regulations to allow only heat-treated wood to be brought into the park for campground fires. If the proposal is adopted, beginning in March 2015, it would ban the importation of firewood that is not bundled and certified by the USDA or a state agency. 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.
A variety of destructive pests lay eggs or stowaway in firewood. These insects from Asia and Europe have the potential to devastate over 30 species of hardwood trees native to the park. Movement of 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.
Numerous stakeholders representing federal and state agencies, conservation organizations, and universities are joining together to develop a national strategy to mitigate the risks associated with movement of firewood, including a public education campaign. 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). Current park regulations prohibit the importation of wood and wood products from states (or specific counties in states) quarantined for insects such as emerald ashborer or tree diseases such as thousand canker disease.
Although the new proposed regulation prohibiting the importation of non-certified wood would not take effect until 2015, the park is asking visitors to make the switch to safe firewood now. Heat-treated wood is available from an increasing number of businesses outside the park and staff are working with concessioners within the park to use low-risk wood sources until they are able to make the transition.
A final decision on adopting the new regulation is expected by the end of the year. The public may submit comments by: mail at 107 Park Headquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738; by e-mail; or comment cards available at visitor centers and campgrounds.