[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                        June 12, 2009

Diligence can help stop tree diseases

By Jim Kerkman, The Real McCoy Contributor

June has to be one of the best months of the year; school gets out and there is the promise of a full summer of activities ahead. What can be better than loading up the family vehicle with camping and fishing gear and heading out for a week, or a long weekend of outdoor activities?

Photo: Jim Kerkman, Fort McCoy forester, inspects an ash tree at the installation for signs of pests or disease. (Photo by Rob Schuette)
Jim Kerkman, Fort McCoy forester, inspects an ash tree at the installation for signs of pests or disease. (Photo by Rob Schuette)

Once the car is loaded with the essentials, there might be some extra space in the trunk. Because a proper camping experience includes a campfire for roasting marshmallows, the temptation is to use the extra space to load up some firewood from a dead tree that was down in the yard. That should save the budget a few dollars by not having to buy firewood from the campground.

STOP! Don’t bring that firewood from home! What if that tree was an ash tree killed by the emerald ash borer, or an oak tree killed by oak wilt, or there are gypsy moth eggs on the firewood. Any one of those situations can occur and people might end up transporting these insects or diseases to a new location.

The emerald ash borer, or EAB, is a very destructive insect that can kill all of the native ash trees in an infected area. It already has been responsible for more than 25 million trees dying or being killed to prevent the spread. 

Suspected to have come to the United States in wood crating material from China, the EAB was first noticed in the Detroit area in 2002. It has since been spread throughout Michigan, into Indiana, Illinois, Maryland and now has been found in two areas of Wisconsin.

The insect cannot move more than few miles on its own, so this rapid spread is likely the result of people transporting the insect living in firewood. Once an ash tree is infested with EAB it usually dies within three to five years as a result of the insect eating through the inner bark and cutting off the flow of water and nutrients to the tree.

Photo: A view of unknown damage to trees at Gate No. 1 (Old Main Gate) at Fort McCoy June 2. (Photo by Rob Schuette) (An Extra to The Real McCoy Online)
A view of unknown damage to trees at Gate No. 1 (Old Main Gate) at Fort McCoy June 2. (Photo by Rob Schuette) (An Extra to The Real McCoy Online) 

Oak wilt is a fungal disease of oak trees that can kill a tree within a few months once it is infected. This disease is spread in two ways.

One way is when picnic beetles feed on sap from diseased trees; get oak wilt spores on them, then fly to a healthy tree and feed on sap flowing from a break in the bark. The second way is when a diseased oak shares a root system (the roots grow together) with a healthy oak; the disease is spread to the healthy oaks through the roots. If firewood is from a diseased tree and there are active spore pads on the wood, oak wilt can spread to an area that does not have oak wilt. The best way to keep oak wilt from starting is to avoid pruning or otherwise cutting oaks from April 1 to July 31 each year.

Gypsy moths were introduced from Europe in the 1860s near Boston and have been slowly spreading west ever since. The female moth does not fly so this insect cannot spread to new areas very quickly. Once again it is people who have spread this insect to new areas. If people camp or live in a gypsy moth- infested area and then travel to another area, the moth may have hitched a ride (that’s why they are called gypsy moths) on vehicles or other outdoor items and now they are in a new area.

This spring, Monroe County (which includes much of Fort McCoy) was added to the gypsy moth quarantine area. The quarantine is designed to limit gypsy moth movement by restricting what can be moved out of the area or requiring inspections for certain items. This includes firewood and outdoor household items like lawn furniture, grills, bicycles, etc.

For people currently staying at a Fort McCoy housing unit, the installation Family Housing Office will provide them with information about the quarantine requirements when they move.

Military units training on Fort McCoy will need to make sure their vehicles and equipment used in the field are cleaned before returning to their home station.

This article focuses on only three insects and diseases causing a great deal of trouble to the forests, but there are more potential problems that are out there. With the global economy and the rapid movement of goods around the world, there will inevitably be more insects and diseases brought into the United States and likewise exported to other countries.

People can help prevent or at least slow the spread of these insects and diseases by not moving firewood around. Buy firewood at your camping place and burn it at the campground.

Fort McCoy’s Pine View Recreation Area sells firewood that is purchased from a business that sells certified pest-free firewood so you can enjoy the campfire and relax knowing that you did not bring a problem with you.

People who stay at Pine View Recreation Area also need to inspect their lawn furniture, etc., for signs of moths, caterpillars and egg masses and remove or scrape them of, Kerkman said. More information is available at the Pine View campground office.

For more information on this topic, visit the Web site http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/invasives/firewood/. To report suspected diseased trees in the Fort McCoy community, call the Forestry Office at 608-388-2102.

(Kerkman is the Fort McCoy Forester of the Directorate of Public Works.)


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