Guarding Prince Edward Island’s Forests: Don’t Move Firewood

Published on Tuesday October 24, 2023
Authored by PEIISC

For Immediate Release.

Invasive species are a looming threat to the PEI forest according to The PEI Invasive Species Council and the PEI Woodlot Owners Association. Several insect pests and tree diseases are spreading through North America, and we have an opportunity as an Island to protect our trees by not bringing in potentially infected firewood from the mainland, and by minimizing the movement of local firewood.

Prince Edward Island is an integral part of the endangered Wabanaki-Acadian Forest Region, where less than 1% of old-growth forests remain. As the pressures on our forests continue to mount, it is crucial to support local woodlot owners and our Island forests by limiting the spread of invasive insects and diseases that jeopardize our ecological, social, and economic well-being. 

Invasive species not only slow down tree growth and reduce lumber quality but can also result in trade restrictions. The consequences of their introductions can be far-reaching. Every year in Canada, approximately 400,000 hectares of forest fall victim to these invaders, nearly half of the 930,000 hectares harvested by the forest industry. Sick and infested trees can lead to infrastructure damage, diminish recreational opportunities, and in a loss of trees that hold a cultural importance as medicine plants and food sources. Preserving and restoring biodiversity in these areas also means building resiliency and protecting wildlife habitat. By not moving firewood, the chances of moving these pests and disease are greatly reduced.

On the mainland there are some invasive species present that threaten some of our most important trees. Limiting the movement of firewood from off-island and across PEI can help prevent their spread. 

  • Oak wilt: A disease that affects all oaks including our provincial tree, red oak, Quercus rubra,. Oak wilt can cause tree mortality in as little as one year. Red oak has shown no resistance. The disease is caused by a fungus, Bretziella fagacerum. Present in three small populations in Ontario. 
  • Hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), Adelges tsugae: A small aphid-like insect that affects hemlock trees including eastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. The insect feeds on the base of hemlock needles and is able to kill infested trees in 3-5 years. Present in parts of Nova Scotia and Ontario.
  • Emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis: A small metallic green wood boring beetle that threatens true ash trees including Black ash, Fraxinus nigra. True ash trees on PEI are already imperiled, and this insect is able to kill them within three years. Present in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova scotia.
  • Spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula: A leafhopper that threatens over 70 species of plants. It can cause serious harm to the apple and grape industry as they steal the sugars from the plants. Recreationally, they impact trails by secreting a sticky sweet honeydew which results in mold and attracts stinging insects. They can also have a serious impact environmentally as they negatively affect red maples, birch, willow, and poplars. They have not yet been found in Canada but are near our southern border. 

Chase Guindon, coordinator of the Invasive Species Council  stated “Our potential ability to prevent these invasives from contaminating PEI is high; we would regret not having taken preventative action if an infection were to occur” .

These threats could change the ability of our forests to keep other species alive, changing our environment permanently, and not for the better” says Barry Murray, Project Coordinator for the PEI Woodlot Owners Association.

On their own, these invasive species typically have a low dispersal rate. One of the ways these species get spread around to new areas is by hitching a ride with humans on firewood. Diseases (like oak wilt) have spores that are invisible to the naked eye and can grow fungal mats below the bark. Insect eggs (like those of HWA and spotted lanternfly) can be transported on the surface of bark or in their crevices. Wood borers (like EAB) can overwinter as larvae in the hardwood of a tree. 

October is Firewood month. For a greener, safer future, make the pledge: I won’t move firewood.

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