The Hippo


Jun 3, 2020








Firewood contraband
State attempts to enforce firewood quarantines

By Ryan Lessard

Forest rangers are trying to intercept out-of-state firewood with periodic roadside checkpoints, but with such a small staff and no authority to search vehicles, that method is not entirely effective in aiding the statewide and tri-county quarantine — which means that wood contaminated with invasive insects is likely entering New Hampshire despite the quarantine.

Campers and tailgaters
Captain John Accardi is a forest ranger in the state's Division of Forests and Lands. The rangers just concluded the first roadside checkpoint of the year ahead of Memorial Day weekend. It was located in the North Country on Route 3 in Twin Mountain.
“We had confiscations from 42 different individuals, and they ranged in size from one or two armloads of wood to entire pickups full of wood,” Accardi said.
Overall, they seized about three cords of wood, which were subsequently burned at a facility in Lancaster.
“Typically, Memorial Day weekend, the Friday before Memorial Day, there's a flood of folks coming north, either camping or going to camps and second homes,” Accardi said. “[Twin Mountain] is just a good collection point because people tend to get on [Interstate] 93 and they get off there at that exit. You capture 90 to 95 percent of the traffic that's heading north.”
But Accardi said checkpoints like these, while useful, are not capturing nearly as much over the course of the year.
“To draw an analogy, if a trooper sets a radar speed trap for a couple hours, obviously people were speeding before he set up and speeding after he set up,” Accardi said.
Firewood quarantines are  meant to keep out invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetles that can wipe out the state's ash population. The ban on out-of-state firewood began in 2011 as a preventive measure, but by 2013 officials found the bugs in Concord. That led to a meta-quarantine around Merrimack County, which today has grown to encapsulate Hillsborough and Rockingham counties after Ash Borer was found in Salem last September. So even state residents living in those counties can't bring firewood from home up north.
“This is the third year doing the checkpoints in the North Country,” Accardi said. “We've been doing, also, checkpoints at the racetrack in Loudon.”
Accardi said NASCAR races at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway are a big source of out-of-state firewood, since fans follow the race circuit in campers from state to state.
“At our checkpoints at the racetrack, we've found firewood from as far away as California,” Accardi said.
For the most part, forest rangers have conducted their checkpoints at just these two locations and times.
“That's what we've been doing. We're gonna probably be doing more of them around the holiday weekends — potentially July 4, potentially Labor Day,” Accardi said.
For a number of reasons, Accardi said checkpoints have their limits in effectiveness.
“They're a lot of work,” Accardi said. “They eat up a lot of manpower, so we really have to pick and choose the time and location to make it the most effective.”
He said the forest rangers only have nine full-time employees and one part-time employee. They sometimes get help from other state and federal agencies, however. During the North Country checkpoint, Accardi said, he typically gets assistance from a couple law enforcement officers with the U.S. Forest Service since it takes place in the White Mountain National Forest, and during the racetrack checkpoints, two or three people from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are usually on hand to help identify wood species.
But the most challenging thing forest rangers like Accardi have to contend with is a lack of teeth in their enforcement powers.
“It's a difficult thing to enforce because what we do ... is we work with DOT and they put up those variable message signs so people are given some notice as they're driving north [that say] 'Firewood Checkpoint Ahead' and 'Firewood Must Be Inspected,'” Accardi said. “We're kind of relying on folks to cooperate with us and see the sign, voluntarily pull off and have their firewood looked at.”
Some folks may have an economic motive for not cooperating, since campgrounds tend to sell firewood that ranges in price from $5 or $8 per bundle, according to Accardi. 
“When you seize a whole pickup load of hardwood and someone's going camping, the value of that wood to them when they're camping might be a lot higher than the monetary value,” he said. “That's why they bring the wood. They're trying to save money.”
Accardi has tried to put a friendly face on the operation.
“Often times, we write warnings rather than tickets,” Accardi said. “We're relying on them to cooperate with us. We don't want to create an environment where people just get sneaky about it.”
The fine for a first offender is $124.
Ultimately, he said, contaminated wood is bound to fall through the cracks unless people are educated about and follow the rules.
“You can't stop it all,” Accardi said. 
As seen in the June 4, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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