Wayne County lumber to be put under quarantine

Thursday, August 28, 2008

GREENVILLE, Mo. -- Silva, Mo., resident George Ploesser already had six tractor-trailer loads of cut firewood, half meant for St. Louis customers, when authorities were forced to seek quarantines forbidding the removal of ash wood products and nursery trees, as well as all hardwood firewood from Wayne County.

Ploesser was one of a several business owners and residents to attend a public meeting Monday night at Greenville High School to learn about the emerald ash borer. The Asian beetle, which kills ash trees, was found in July at Greenville Recreation Area. It is the only confirmed site of infestation in Missouri.

Federal quarantines have been enacted in 10 states, including Missouri, since the insect was first found in Michigan in 2002. A state quarantine, regulating the movement of Wayne County wood products within the state, is expected today.

Business owners who deal with ash wood products are being asked to sign compliance agreements, stating they will follow quarantine guidelines.

"I know this is going to impact you and in some cases very terribly," Missouri Department of Agriculture entomologist Collin Wamsley told attendees.

In fact, the continued spread of the emerald ash borer could cause $50 billion to $60 billion in ash-related economic losses nationwide, Wamsley said.

Locally, quarantines mean Ploesser, who has been cutting firewood commercially for 15 years, will have to find a way to replace half his customers. The cost of cutting wood outside Wayne County would be prohibitive, he said.

A quarantine would extend to all hardwood firewood from Wayne County because it is difficult to identify the type of wood once it is cut to firewood size, Wamsley said.

Mills and other woodcutters who deal with ash logs have more options. The 12 sawmills in Wayne County can receive approval to take ash logs beyond county lines, but only under compliance agreements and if the bark and a half-inch of the circumference of each log is destroyed. Firewood dealers can also do this, but it would likely be cost-prohibitive for small business owners, Wamsley said.

Some woodcutters said they will simply bypass ash trees when they work in Wayne County.

Which is exactly what concerns Kurt Rehagen, vice president of Rustic Wood Products in Perryville, Mo. The business, started in 1972, produces kiln-dried, high quality hardwood lumber for markets in the United States and Canada, according to its website.

Ash wood makes up about 15 percent of the business, Rehagen said, but the company has been aggressively looking for a larger supply of ash as overseas demand has picked up in the last few months.

Rustic Wood Products is, unfortunately, used to dealing with these quarantines, according to Rehagen. The company received ash logs from Illinois untilemerald ash borers were found there in June 2006.

"It became a hassle to handle [ash] in Illinois," Rehagen said. "My guess is, in the immediate future, loggers are going to go right around ash, like they did in Illinois."

The current Missouri quarantine will be a minor inconvenience for his business, as only 5 percent of the company's ash comes from within Wayne County, Rehagen said. But Rustic Wood Products now receives all of its ash wood from within Missouri and if more counties come under quarantine, it could become a problem for the business.

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