Changes to Firewood Sales in Parks Could Curb Invasive Insects: Study

April 16, 2014 - News Release

Making firewood cheaper in provincial parks and informing the public about the dangers of transporting it from home could curb the spread of invasive insects, according to a study from University of Guelph researchers.

The researchers found a slight cut in the price of firewood and stronger information campaigns about how insects can be transported in firewood could stem the spread of invasive pests to new territory. The study, “Modelling Interactions Between Forest Pest Invasions and Human Decisions Regarding Firewood Transport Restrictions,” was published in PLOS ONE April 15.

Websites for Ontario provincial parks say transporting firewood -- even a single piece -- can help spread insects and their eggs. These insects, such as the emerald ash borer (EAB) and the Asian long-horned beetle (ALB), can infect and kill trees. Many campers still bring firewood with them.

“The reality is that these insects can only travel so far on their own, and they rely on human behaviour to spread further,” said Lee-Ann Barlow, a U of G student and lead author of the paper.

“We wanted to determine what incentives and programs could reduce transportation of firewood and infestations of forest pests ”

The researchers found the primary reason campers bring firewood with them is its cost. Firewood in parks typically costs around $6.75 per bundle, compared to about $5 per bundle elsewhere.

“We initially thought that firewood would have to be made available free of charge in parks for people to stop transporting it, but when we ran our mathematical models, it was found that just a slight decrease in price, to around $4.25, would have the same impact,” Barlow said.

“Last year, the Canadian government spent $17.6 million to fight EAB, and hundreds of ash trees were cut down, in some cases as a pre-emptive measure. Considering this cost, a slight decrease in the cost of firewood would be a wise investment.”

The research team included student Jacob Cecile; Prof. Madhur Anand, School of Environmental Sciences; and Prof. Chris Bauch, Mathematics and Statistics. They also found that social influences and more education about the dangers of invasive insects would be useful.

“If there exists a kind of peer pressure that shows everyone is buying firewood locally instead of transporting it, then this can also reduce infestations,” said Anand, who holds a University Research Chair in Sustainability Science.

“That ties in to increasing education of this issue, another factor we examined. At the moment, most people don’t realize that carrying a couple pieces of firewood, even if they can’t see insects on it, could spread an unwanted species.”

The researchers hope more people will learn about how their behaviour can affect environmental sustainability.

“You don’t need a lot of people bringing firewood into a park for it to have a huge impact,” said Anand.

“It really is so simple, and perhaps hopeful, that the solution to a huge problem could begin with a slight alteration to human behaviour.”

Professor Madhur Anand
University Research Chair in Sustainability Science
School of Environmental Sciences

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