Out-of-area firewood could kill the forest

Nov 15, 2023 | Communities, Mountain Gardening

The goldspotted oak borer (GSOB) is threatening to kill all the oak trees on the mountain if firewood is brought from the Big Bear area to the western end of the San Bernardino Mountains. (Photo: USFS)

By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY

Staff Writer

 

Now that fall’s cooler nights have arrived, many mountain residents are thinking about stocking up on firewood for their fireplaces for winter. There are many choices when buying a cord of firewood – hard or soft wood, seasoned or spilt – and what is the amount of wood in a cord?

These past few years, many trees have been cut locally due to bark beetle infestation and by Edison for electric line clearances, so that is the type of wood you should buy, as it is local and already cut and has had time to season.

However, one of the most important decisions you will need to make may have long-range consequences. It is important this year to not buy wood from out of the area.

First, it is very important to NOT buy or procure oak wood from off the hill or from the Big Bear area, where the goldspotted oak borer (GSOB) is attacking and killing many trees. These bugs originally came from oak wood that was brought into California from Arizona.

This invasive beetle is now infesting the oak trees in the Oak Glen, Big Bear and Wrightwood areas, causing vast amounts of tree mortality. The GSOB has already decimated groves of oak trees in Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties.

In an effort to keep these tiny beetles from coming to the Running Springs, Lake Arrowhead and Crestline areas, the Forest Service is asking all residents to NOT bring, buy or import wood from the Big Bear, Wrightwood or Oak Glen areas to the western part of the forest. The GSOB can only fly 10 to 15 feet, from tree to tree on its own. So, without moving wood from an area already infested to this area, this area is safe.

However, when they arrive in an area, they infest the entire grove of trees in the area where they are located. To move from one geographic area to another they must be transported, which is why they do not want the oak wood from the trees dying in Big Bear to be brought west end of the San Bernardino Mountains for firewood.

The GSOB prefers to munch on California Black Oak trees, Canyon Live Oaks and Coast Live Oak trees. When a tree is infested, the crown of the tree thins and the bark of the main stem of the tree looks stained from larval feeding. The exit holes in the bark of the tree are only 3 to 4 mm in size and are in the shape of a half circle. The entire adult GSOB beetle is only 10 mm long, so they would be difficult to find in a load of wood.

Second, do not transport pine trees that have been killed by bark beetles into a new area, as the bugs may not yet be dead and could infest your own trees, forcing you to pay to cut them down. The trees that are cut down for bark beetle infestation have their trunks covered in plastic for up to a year to be sure all generations of the bugs are dead, otherwise they will infest another area.

That is why, when they cut the trees on the shore at Lake Gregory Regional Park, the tree trunks were covered in plastic. But some unscrupulous people did not heed the “do not open the plastic” warning on the plastic covering the trees; now more trees are infested and trees in other parts of the community are also infested with bark beetles from the people who stole and often sold that wood, releasing the bark beetles and then spreading them to new trees to infest.

Most pine firewood for sale from dealers has been seasoned in their wood lot, meaning it has been allowed to sit around for a year, so any bugs would have died. When it has been seasoned, especially if split before seasoning, then it is safe to buy and transport.

Another problem that can be encountered when buying firewood is how much wood is in a cord? A cord is defined as tightly stacked, split wood that is cut to be 16 inches long and measures eight feet wide by four feet deep and four feet tall when stacked, or 128 cubic feet of wood. Depending on the type of wood, it could weigh up to 5,000 pounds when seasoned (meaning much of the moisture has left the wood). An average half-ton pickup may be able to hold a third to a half cord of dried wood, if tightly stacked.

If mountain residents want to continue to live in a forest, they need to be serious about not transporting these invasive bugs to new areas to kill more trees. The pine bark beetles and GSOBs will kill the forest if they are brought into this area. Every resident needs to be careful to not bring invasive species into the forest by purchasing locally cut wood for their fireplaces this winter.

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