Note to Campers: Buying local firewood helps keep bad bugs at bay

Public policy issues wax and wane in importance among rural landowners. But some topics always tend to hover at the top of the list of concerns for families invested in woodland property.

For nearly three decades, the National Woodland Owners Association has been annually polling its members around the country for the main issues on their minds. Three themes always on the radar are taxes, property rights and controlling the spread of damaging insects.

Timberland owners spend a lot of time fretting that local government officials will try to balance tight budgets in part by raising woodland property taxes, said Keith Argow, NWOA’s president.

“All politics and forestry is local, and landowners must pay attention to new proposals,” Argow writes in the spring 2016 issue of National Woodlands, the association’s quarterly forestry magazine. “Society benefits in multiple ways from healthy forests, including clean water, wildlife habitat, a reliable wood supply for business and open space. As a rule of thumb, woodland tax rates should be no higher than $3/acre/year.”

Battles over property rights protection are often byproducts of urban-rural divides, both physical and philosophical. Increasing urbanization is a persistent issue of concern for family forestland owners, who fear diminishing public appreciation for working rural landscapes.

“As rural America continues to transform from working farms and forests to homesites without working landscapes, the character of the neighborhood changes,” said Argow. “Eventually the composition of state and local elected officials changes too. The elected officials either reflect opinion of the new arrivals, or they are soon out of office.”

NWOA tends to encourage “right-to-practice-forestry” laws at the state level to guard against restrictive local ordinances that discourage even responsible timber harvesting.

Another matter about which woodland managers are keenly alert is “bad bugs and diseases,” said Argow.

Real and present dangers to Tennessee forests include gypsy moth, pine beetles, emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid and thousand-cankers disease, which is a fungus transmitted to black walnut trees by a twig beetle.

Preventing infestation tends to be key. The invidious insects like to hitch free rides into uncontaminated forests whenever they can. Of particular concern is the transport firewood, even within the state.

“People should try to keep it as local as they can, at least within their home county,” said Tyler Wakefield, a state forester for Cannon, Coffee, DeKalb, Warren Counties. “We certainly don’t want people hauling firewood across the state to go camping.”

The Tennessee Department of Forestry advises: “Don’t bring firewood along for camping trips; get the wood from a local source. Don’t bring wood home with you.”

To check out the National Woodland Owners Association’s Top 10 list of tree-growers’ issues, visit http://woodlandowners.org/.

Argow noted that the Tennessee Woodland Association, which is affiliated with NWOA, is looking to sign up volunteers to promote public awareness about forest health issues in the Volunteer State. Contact him at argow@cs.net for details.