It’s hard to miss the warnings against moving firewood and ash trees out of areas infested by a tree-killing beetle.
Bumper stickers and posters threaten stiff fines. Inspectors are known to make surprise stops at campgrounds. And there are occasional police checkpoints to make sure travelers aren’t moving wood that could threaten trees in other states.
Yet in the last few years, the two most heavily infested states have handed out few fines to people who violate the bans on moving firewood and ash trees, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Ten states – from Missouri to Virginia – have found ash borer infestations and put in place quarantines, which in general prohibit the movement of wood out of the affected areas.
The beetle bores under the bark of ash trees and has killed more than 30 million ash trees in Michigan and millions more in Ohio and Indiana. Federal agriculture officials fear it could spread throughout the east-central United States within the next two decades.
Most experts say firewood is to blame for the spread of the emerald ash borer to several states. Infestations found in both Missouri and West Virginia are near campgrounds.
Regulators in Ohio and Michigan say their main goal isn’t catching or fining violators. They say they want to educate people and that the threat of fines is a good way to get their attention about the danger of moving firewood, trees and limbs.
More people are getting the message, said Tom Harrison, manager of pest control with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Campground operators are helping to stop the spread also, he said. “We’re finding at campgrounds that most people aren’t bringing firewood,” Harrison said.
Part of what makes enforcing the quarantines difficult is that most of the money is being spent on finding a way to combat the ash borer and determining how far it has spread.
“The goal is to find these populations and waiting to see if they come up with some silver bullet to take these bugs out,” Harrison said.
It’s also impossible to catch everyone moving a few pieces of firewood.
Regulators in both states spend much of their time working with nursery owners, retailers and lumber companies to make sure they are safely selling and moving wood.
Michigan issued nine citations in 2004 and eight in 2005, but they have since dropped – to just three last year.