CORVALLIS, Ore. - Researchers at Oregon State University have found that a focused education and outreach campaign targeted at something most people can easily relate to - campfires and the firewood burned in campgrounds - contributes to behavioral changes to slow the spread of invasive species.
The study, the first of its kind in the U.S., was part of a two-year campaign led by invasive species councils in Oregon, Idaho and Washington to encourage people not to transport firewood.
Many insects and diseases that threaten natural resources in the Pacific Northwest can lie dormant, on or in firewood for up to two years, and researchers discovered that some firewood sold or brought to Oregon originated from as far away as the East Coast of the U.S., New Zealand and Russia.
Before the study started, entomologists associated with the project found 20 specimens of live invasive species in just six bundles of firewood purchased at grocery stores.
The study assessed the effectiveness of the educational campaign, as well as how much campers know about firewood as a vector of invasive species, the sources of firewood transported to campgrounds, and how campers can play a role in slowing the spread of invasive species.
"We wanted something that would clearly represent the problem, and we felt that firewood is so iconic that using it as an educational tool would help people better understand that humans are vectors of invasive species," said Sam Chan, Oregon Sea Grant's invasive species and watershed health specialist. "Campers transporting firewood across borders and ecosystems can unknowingly spread invasive species."
Before the campaign was launched, more than 2,000 campers were surveyed who had reserved Oregon state park campsites online between 2005 and 2008. Another 2,000 campers were surveyed and other interviews done after the campaign was under way.
The campaign featured posters bearing the slogan "Buy it where you burn it" and promoted the website http://dontmovefirewood.org. Receipts printed by campers who reserved campsites online carried warnings about firewood and invasive species. The campaign also used roadside billboards, campground posters and other marketing materials to communicate the message.
About 40 percent of campers surveyed said they purchased their firewood from the campground host, and 31 percent brought it from their home, sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles away. Almost 60 percent of those who saw the campaign information said they would change their behavior regarding firewood, including buying wood from the camp host.
But the study also found that many campers showed no change in their ability to define what an invasive species is, how these species threaten the Pacific Northwest, or how to identify them.
Chan says Oregon has an opportunity to take a national leadership role in regulating distribution of non-heat-treated firewood. State legislation is being considered, he said, and the project can also help inform a future national policy.
The project was funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
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Sam Chan, 541-737-1583