In attempt to stop tree-killing insects, campers told to leave firewood at home

A campfire ring is seen Thursday at a campsite at Harrison Bay State Park near Chattanooga.

Got the tent, sleeping bags, camp stove? The insect repellent and sunscreen? Some nice logs for the campfire?

Hold that thought, especially when it comes to firewood.

Campers heading to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fall Creek Falls State Park or anywhere else to pitch their tents this spring are being told to leave their logs at home and either get firewood at their destinations or buy heat-treated, USDA-certified bundled wood.

Approved local wood sources

One type of manufactured firewood is produced by Prologue, of Whitwell, Tenn., which manufactures the only extruded wood log in the U.S. The product is sold at Pruett's Market on Signal Mountain and the Raceway market on Signal Mountain Road in Chattanooga, and at Whitwell's Ace Hardware and Raceway market. Prologue's products have received approval for use in the Smokies and elsewhere, according to company officials.

The problem is widespread infestations of destructive and disease-carrying insects that kill trees. Insects like the Asian long-horned beetle, and the walnut twig beetle which carries "thousand cankers disease," could spell trouble for the region's forests.

These insects are not a problem if firewood is burned where it is gathered, but carrying the wood to a new area could help spread the deadly insects.

As of March 1, campers can bring only heat-treated firewood that is bundled and certified by the USDA or a similar state agency into the Smokies national park. Campers at national and state parks still can gather dead and downed wood from the park for campfires, officials said.

Jim Dale, spokesman for the Tennessee Division of Forestry, said humans are responsible for transporting most bugs and diseases from place to place, so it's up to them to keep from spreading problems.

In January, 30 counties in East Tennessee were put into a wood quarantine or buffer zone for thousand cankers, Dale said.

Another problem insect, the emerald ash borer, was introduced to the U.S. from the Far East.

"That little bug came to the United States through Michigan in some wood packing material from Asia," Dale said, noting it can kill an ash tree in about three years from the time it starts boring.

Kim Hatcher, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the Peach State's biggest concern is the emerald ash borer. She added, "We could really use our visitors' help in protecting the forests throughout Georgia."

Larry Beane, the interpretive park ranger at Little River Canyon National Preserve near Fort Payne, Ala., said officials at the federal park and nearby DeSoto State Park are watching for dangerous insects. The federal park's campsites are closed and being moved, but there's lots of camping at DeSoto.

Georgia and Alabama park officials say wood is available near most state parks.

DeSoto Superintendent Ken Thomas said park officials understand that a campfire is an important part of the camping experience and that most people don't want to do any harm to their public forests.

"I think the saying is, 'Buy it where you burn it,'" Thomas said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or or or 423-757-6569.