In an ongoing campaign to educate the public about the Goldspotted oak borer and the danger it presents to California’s oaks, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection declared and mapped a zone of infestation in San Diego County. The declaration and the borders of the zone were adopted at a September meeting of the Board Forestry and Fire Protection and were based on recommendations made by CAL FIRE Chief Ken Pimlott.

At this time, the plan is to foster greater interagency cooperation and to inform and enlist the public in containing the spread of the beetle outside the current infestation zone, according to Board Executive Office George Gentry. It is also to educate the public about the dangers of transporting firewood from the zone to destinations outside the zone. In adopting the zone, the agency considered particular risks to uninfected communities like Idyllwild with large stands of oak.

The educational message being propagated is to burn wood where it is harvested and don’t transport it, especially from San Diego County to any location outside the county. Debarked oak and oak that has been cured for two years pose little to no danger of beetle spread, but those who buy and transport firewood must try to get proof that the wood is harvested from a noninfected area, said Dr. Tom Scott, University of California Riverside natural research specialist and a lead activist in the oak borer battle.

The zone declaration is a step toward greater regulation but at this time the focus is only on education, Scott said. The oak borer infestation zone is clearly demarked and any buyer of firewood from a commercial seller has a right to ask for a bill of sale that shows where it was harvested.

Scott suggested threatened communities, such as Idyllwild, should seek county support for roadside signs that warn firewood importers, both commercial and those bringing it for personal use, that only locally harvested wood is permitted in the community. “Burn only local wood,” said Scott.

He also suggested appealing to the self-interest of vacation rental owners and property managers to advise their clients against firewood importation. “Otherwise owner property values will be affected when oak borer destroys local oak forests,” he said.

The CAL FIRE education campaign is especially critical to educate visitors to Idyllwild about the dangers in bringing firewood from San Diego County. Many San Diego County residents visit Idyllwild. Many have second homes here. Others stay in vacation rentals.

At present, there is no way to know if they are bringing firewood in from the infected zone, Scott noted. There the beetle has destroyed over 80,000 trees since it was discovered in 2002, according to the CAL FIRE news release. Scientists believe the pest emigrated from Mexico and southeastern Arizona into San Diego County, most probably in firewood.

“The insect causes mortality in healthy, mature coast live oak, canyon live oak and California black oak trees,” said Gentry.

Scott said the public is the frontline against oak borer spread. “Firewood is one of the least regulated commodities,” said Scott, noting that no one should buy firewood without asking for source documentation.