Roadside firewood stands are multiplying on the approaches to the Great Sacandaga Lake and its Northampton State Campsite since the state banned transporting firewood more than 50 miles.
The measure, enacted in 2008 in an attempt to slow the spread of the tree-killing Asian beetle known as the emerald ash borer, is the subject this year of a major state and federal billboard campaign.
In conjunction, the state Department of Environmental Conservation this week announced it would operate checkpoints on roads leading from Vermont and Massachusetts into Rensselaer and Columbia counties.
In the days leading up to the Memorial Day weekend and in concert with Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service set up 125 stationary billboards on major highways across the nation. In New York, where six of the stationary billboards were placed, the agency also deployed three mobile billboards mounted on truck beds. The trucks were driven eight hours per day during that holiday weekend, making stops at campsites, sporting good stores and other attractions where prospective campers and sportsmen might gather, said agency spokeswoman Sharon E. Lucik.
“This is a robust outreach campaign,” said Lucik, citing the collaboration between the federal agency and state governments, as well as with Cooperative Extension and such organizations as the Nature Conservancy.
The billboard messages are consistent from state to state, Lucik said. In New York, the legend on the billboards is “We Promise New York We Won’t Move Firewood.”
The ash borer was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, and infestations reached western New York in 2009. More recently, the beetles were found in Ulster and Greene counties. State officials are trying various strategies to save an estimated 9 million ash trees, including pesticide injections and feeding infected trees through chipping machines.
There are 14 states that either have infestations or are in danger, Lucik said.
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said conservation officers have cited about 20 people for illegally transporting wood. She said the state’s public education campaign has been successful, making way this year for increased enforcement efforts. Numerous checkpoints will be set up throughout the summer.
Meanwhile, she said, DEC is asking residents who observe distressed ash trees to call a hotline listed on the agency’s website at www.dec.ny.gov.
Dave Allen of Dave’s Bait and Tackle on Bunker Hill Road in Northampton — just off Route 30 and near the Northampton campsite — offers camp firewood at his business. He said traffic has been relatively constant for a number of years, making it difficult to ascribe a portion of his wood business to the state regulation.
Last year, a state forest ranger provided him with certificates attesting to the origin of the wood. He eventually ran out of those certificates.
Allen sells a large rack of wood for $5. It appears many of his customers are owners of summer homes on or near the lake, he said. There are at least eight wood stands in that same vicinity, four on Houseman Street, the access road to the campsite.
DEC’s top official for the campaign, Robert K. Davies, director of lands and forests and a state forester, said the wood vendors “are doing just what we are encouraging.”
There are still problems establishing a verification system to identify the origin of wood from these vendors, however, Davies noted.
Though the law requires people transporting wood to have a certificate listing the origin, he said DEC would like to see the vendors begin marking the wood racks or bundles with an identifying sticker. One such sticker might include the name of the vendor with their address, he suggested.
“We’re not going to make a perfect, bulletproof firewood system,” he said. “We’re trying to limit as much as we can the movement of firewood.”