Wood-burning fireplaces serve several functions in the home – from practical to aesthetic. Sometimes the fireplace is used to heat the home, while in other cases it acts as a beautiful, focal point on special occasions. Either way, owners of wood-burning fireplaces generally love everything their fireplaces have to offer. Aside from the regular chimney maintenance, most home owners don’t put much extra thought into the specifics of their fireplace, including purchasing the wood for fuel. The goal is usually to find the cheapest wood that burns the longest, but more care should go into choosing the right firewood – especially where it comes from.
Always investigate the source of your firewood before you purchase to ensure it has come from a local source. The Don’t Move Firewood campaign says “local” means within a county or two of where you plan to transport, store and burn the firewood. If the firewood came from any further than a few counties away, find a more local source. At the same time, if you plan to travel more than a few counties away with your firewood, choose to purchase wood more local to your destination instead. Importing wood from a different area can have devastating environmental effects.
Firewood is a good representation of the ecosystem that it originated from. It often contains native species, such as insects, fungi and bacteria. Sometimes these species can be seen on the firewood, but more often than not, they’re invisible to the human eye. For the trees and other plant life in the ecosystem the firewood came from, these organisms generally do not cause serious ill effects. For thousands and even millions of years, the trees, insects, fungi and bacteria have lived and evolved together and have achieved a natural balance. By moving firewood out of its original area though, you introduce these organisms to an ecosystem unaccustomed to them, which can have serious consequences.
An insect, fungus or bacteria introduced to an environment it has never inhabited before is called a nonnative or invasive species. These organisms have no natural enemies in the new system, and before the environment has an opportunity to adjust to the invasion, the intruding species has had the opportunity to grow rapidly and further infiltrate the area.
One consequence of this fast overpopulation is that similar, native species are outcompeted by the invasive species for shared resources, resulting in a decrease in the native species’ population. Another consequence is the introduction of disease. For example, the Emerald Ash Borer – a beetle originally from Asia – was found in Michigan in 2002 after it was accidentally introduced there. The beetles do little damage to the Ash trees they inhabit, but the larvae inside the trees disrupt the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Now, nearly every state in the eastern half of the United States has been affected and tens of millions of Ash trees have died. These beetles would not have traveled far on their own, but with the movement of firewood, logs and nursery trees, the damage has devastated the Ash tree population.
Countless other examples of this have occurred throughout the country and continue to occur as long as people refuse to keep firewood local. Trees and plant life are vital to the health of the environment for generations to come, so do your part to maintain the ecosystems around you by purchasing and burning firewood locally.