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State parks attempting to educate campers on emerald ash borer

WILLMAR -- Go ahead. Buy the ingredients for the s'mores at home and pack them for wherever your family is headed for the holiday weekend. Just don't plan to haul your own wood for the fire to roast the marshmallows.

This weekend is the unofficial start to summer; it is also the start to an educational effort at Sibley State Park, and all Minnesota state parks, to help campers understand why they can't bring their own firewood. The firewood from home could be invested with emerald ash borer, the tree bug that's killed millions of ash trees, mostly in Michigan.

"The reason we are doing this is to protect our forests for as long as possible," said Paul Otto, Sibley State Park manager.

"We are just trying to save our trees."

The state park in rural New London will post signage at key locations, plus ask campers when they register if they have firewood, Otto said.

The campground hosts, who visit campers at their campsites, are the primary contact and, therefore, primary educator on the issue of borer infestation and firewood.

Campers who bring their own firewood will be asked to burn it immediately, he said. Campers without reservations who bring in firewood could be turned away from the park.

This year, Otto and the park staff are getting the word out, and they expect most campers to understand why the restrictions are in place. Next year, a $100 fine could be assessed to campers who bring in firewood.

The new firewood movement restrictions were signed into law earlier this month by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Instead of hauling in firewood, campers are urged to buy the wood after they arrive at their destination or from an approved firewood dealer. The goal is to stop the borer and other "hitchhikers" like gypsy moth.

The borer is a tiny beetle that is devastating forests and neighborhoods in Canada and several of Minnesota's neighboring states.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, emerald ash borer has killed more than 20 million ash trees and infested more than 40,000 square miles in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Canada.

It is a common practice for campers to bring firewood in when camping, said Chuck Kartak, deputy director of the parks and recreation division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"It's important now that we quickly adjust this camping practice by purchasing wood when arriving at the state campsite facility, or from an approved vendor on the way," Kartak said in a DNR news release. "By doing this, we protect the resources that make our state parks and forests so special."

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Kandiyohi County has a moderate to high risk -- between 70 and 90 percent chance -- of emerald ash borer introduction. The Twin Cities metro area has a very high -- greater than 90 percent -- and high risk of introduction.

The Agriculture Department has run a statewide monitoring program since 2005 for the invasive tree pest.

The tiny bug, about a half-inch long and metallic green, is a big threat because Minnesota has more than 870 million ash trees, the third most in the nation. Ash trees were used extensively as replacements for elms after those trees were killed by Dutch Elm disease.

"Minnesota is a sitting duck for emerald ash borer because we have a huge population of susceptible ash species such as green, white and black ash," said Ag Commissioner Gene Hugoson in a news release. "The bottom line is that emerald ash borer could rival Dutch elm disease as the worst thing to hit Minnesota trees in our lifetime."

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture offers these tips for preventing emerald ash borer from spreading:

  • Don't transport firewood. Buy it where you burn it, and burn all of it where you buy it.
  • Don't buy firewood from outside Minnesota. If someone comes to your door selling firewood, ask them about the source of the wood. If it came from outside Minnesota, don't buy it.
  • Keep an eye on your ash trees. For more information on how to identify ash trees and to monitor your own ash trees for emerald ash borer, visit

    The DNR defines approved firewood as:

  • Firewood offered for sale by vendors currently under contract with the DNR.
  • Firewood offered for sale by vendors who have successfully completed an application process requiring that a proof of purchase is provided to customers, and requiring that the wood originated within Minnesota and within 100 miles of where it will be used.
  • Firewood offered for sale by vendors that is documented to have been treated by a method that ensures it is free of emerald ash borer.

    The three approved treatment methods include removal of bark and the outer half-inch of sapwood; kiln drying of firewood to United States Department of Agriculture specifications; or heat-treating firewood to USDA specifications.

    For more information about firewood on state lands, call the DNR's Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll-free at 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367), or visit the DNR Web site at and click on the "Leave Firewood at Home" button.

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