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AUGUSTA, Maine – Highlighting the start of Maine’s camping season, the Maine Forest Service, under the Maine Department of Conservation, will again hold an out-of-state firewood exchange this weekend to prevent the importation of dangerous invasive insects to Maine’s forests and to make Maine visitors and residents aware of the problem.

A detail of Maine Forest Service forest rangers will set up an exchange station for two days, Thursday through Friday, May 26-27, at the northbound Kittery rest area, Interstate 95, according to Maine Forest Service (MFS) officials. Not only will the forest rangers exchange out-of-state wood for Maine wood, they also will give out warnings to those who import the banned firewood.

For the third time since the state ban was put in place last year, MFS forest rangers will exchange the prohibited out-of-state firewood for disposal as a way to prevent the spread of two invasive species in particular: Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) and emerald ash borer (EAB).

The threat from both invasive species to North American forests has become a matter of international concern, according to MFS officials. Both insects, already found in near-by states and Canadian provinces, threaten to destroy Maine’s forests.

“It makes a difference, it’s important, and the Maine Legislature has banned out-of-state firewood – we’re trying to make sure these pests do not get a free ride in,” said Dave Struble, MFS state entomologist. “We’re still largely in education mode, and we’ve spent a lot of time and effort getting the word out, working with the state’s promotional agencies, such as the Maine Office of Tourism, and groups such as the Maine Campground Owners Association. We’re getting the word out to visitors, hopefully before they and the bugs get here.”

“Maine’s forest rangers are committed to protecting Maine’s forest resources from threats of all types, including wildfires, abuse and invasive pests,” said Bill Williams, Maine’s chief forest ranger. “We are working closely with our departmental counterparts to ensure that invasive insects do not spread into Maine, which would result in potentially devastating effects on our state’s timber industry. Maine forest rangers will use their law enforcement authority to protect these resources by enforcing this law, as we do with many other statutes.”

The two invasive insects have destroyed millions of acres of trees in other states. ALB has infested the Worcester, Mass., area and recently was discovered in Boston. EAB, which has killed millions of ash trees and threatens Maine’s American Indian basket-making tradition, has been found in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Maryland, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

The first Maine firewood exchange was held September 2010, followed by a second one that October after an emergency order immediately implementing the firewood ban was put in place. Legislation calling for the ban was passed during the 124th Legislature.

Both exchanges were very successful, and wood samples taken during the exchanges were placed in incubation at the New Hampshire Division of Forest and Lands, which has a hatching laboratory, Struble said. The lab consists of a series of ventilated barrels each with glass-emergence jars and a light trap to monitor what emerges from the wood samples, he said.

So far, no invasive species have emerged, “but we won’t really know until the middle of the summer” when the insects normally appear, Struble said. He is anticipating a final report from the lab at that time.

Similar to the previous exchanges, a detail of six Maine forest rangers will staff the Kittery rest area, according to Lt. Jeffrey Currier, Maine Forest Rangers, who is overseeing the operation. Two large, message signs will direct travelers to the exchange station, he said.

Anyone found transporting out-of-state firewood will be required to exchange their firewood for a comparable amount. The confiscated wood will be bagged in plastic and disposed at a wood biomass facility. Each exchange will be logged, according to Currier.

The exchange may be continued on Saturday, May 28, depending on weather conditions and the volume of previous exchanges, Currier stated.

Struble said that Maine state park campgrounds and private campgrounds, many which open this weekend, also are participating in the preventative effort.

“Most are trying to address the situation by providing wood on site and encouraging campers to buy wood locally,” the state entomologist said. “The message is we don’t want people bringing it in — if you have people bringing it in, burn it immediately.”

What is of greatest concern, Struble said, is the out-of-state firewood brought by people to their private camps. He said it important for neighbors to remind neighbors of the ban to protect Maine’s forests. He said the invasive insects also may be in areas not yet identified as infested, so it is imperative to keep out all non-Maine firewood.

“Our guests are coming into Maine from areas known to be infested,” he said. “We’re working with the assumption that most know not to bring in firewood, and we’re working to reach the others who don’t know this.”

The threat has reached international levels of concern, the state entomologist said. There already is an international joint quarantine on firewood from Canada, and the issue is being raised through such efforts as the Continental Dialogue on Non-Native Forest Insects and Diseases, an international forum of foresters, horticulturists and others spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy, Struble said.

“The step we are taking with the firewood exchange and ban are fully in keeping with regional, national and international concerns,” Struble said. “We are ahead of the curve in that we have regulations in place.”

The state now is operating under an emergency ban, though final regulations are being drafted, Struble said. He said he still is reviewing how the order is working before the final regulations are presented for public comment and are put in place.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure wood isn’t brought in so it doesn’t destroy Maine’s forests,” Struble said. “If these invasive species get established, it will destroy Maine’s forests, Maine jobs, and destroy something critical to what we are as Mainers.”

For more information on the Maine Forest Service, go to: www.maineforestservice.org

For more information about the Maine out-of-state firewood ban, go to: www.maine.gov/firewood