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Firewood sold at Menards may have the tree-killing emerald ash borer

State agriculture officials in Minnesota and Wisconsin on Wednesday asked consumers to immediately burn any Taylors Wood Products firewood sold at Menards and possibly other stores because it may contain emerald ash borers.

The notice came after the states learned that thousands of bundles of firewood from Taylors came from trees cut in Illinois, which is under federal quarantine.

The quarantine is intended to keep live trees and cut wood that may be infested with emerald ash borers from leaving Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and southeastern Ontario, where emerald ash borers have killed millions of trees.

It's not known whether any of the Taylors wood is infested. But state officials said it's critical the wood be burned before any larvae that may be under the bark transform into beetles and emerge, usually in early May.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has issued a national recall on the Taylors firewood. But it may be too late: Most of the wood already has been sold.

The Taylors firewood came in small bundles wrapped in plastic and clearly marked with the company name, said Mike Schommer, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

"The good news is that Illinois is the least-infested of the quarantine states,'' Schommer said. "But we know EAB is there [in Illinois] and you don't want to take any of this lightly.''

State and federal officials across the region are working feverishly on a campaign to keep campers, cabin owners, anglers and others from moving possibly infested wood out of the infested states and into the state and national forests and parks in Wisconsin and Minnesota and into ash-filled cities across the upper Midwest.

But now, wood from an infested area has been moved to hundreds of stores across the region, and then moved again by consumers to possibly thousands of different sites.

"It's a terrible scenario because of how many stores this may have gone to,'' said Mick Skwarok, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.

It's not known how many Minnesota or Wisconsin Menards stores carried the wood. Menards stores in Iowa, Nebraska and North and South Dakota also received the wood, and it may have gone to some Home Depot and Lowe's stores as well, Schommer said.

Unlike some foreign pests that simply damage or defoliate trees, or kill only some of the trees they infest, emerald ash borers have proven almost 100 percent fatal to all varieties of ash it comes across.

The insect threatens millions of boulevard ash trees in Minnesota and Wisconsin cities and hundreds of millions of wild ash trees. Northern Minnesota has the highest concentration of black ash of any forests in the United States.

Federal and state resources agencies in Wisconsin and Minnesota have adopted rules essentially banning the importation of firewood into state and national forests and parks.

Experts are asking people to buy and burn firewood only near where it was cut.

The ash borer is a half-inch, emerald green beetle as an adult, but does its damage as a wood-munching larvae. It already has spread within Michigan in firewood loads. It spread to the East Coast on one truckload of live trees.

No wood can legally leave the quarantine area unless it has been debarked or treated, and the Taylors firewood still had its bark on, said Geir Friisoe, Minnesota Department of Agriculture plant protection division director.

"We are working with retailers to withdraw any of the wood that has not yet been sold, but since much of it has already been sold to consumers, we are asking people to help us get rid of the wood by burning it as soon as possible,'' Friisoe said in a statement. "If this wood is not burned by May 4, there is a chance EAB may emerge and infest nearby ash trees."

Emerald ash borers have been found as close as northern Illinois, but have not yet been found in Wisconsin or Minnesota. The larvae feed just under the bark of ash trees, killing them by preventing the flow of water and nutrients in the tree.

It's believed emerald ash borers first were released into the U.S. near Detroit in the late 1990s, arriving from China in wood pallets or packing crates that still had bark on the wood. The beetles have since killed more than 20 million trees.