Federal Officials Explore Pest Rules for Wood Packaging, Firewood – The federal government is considering the potential extension of pallet heat treating to domestic packaging. The possibility of heat treating firewood offers the biggest challenge.
Even though it is smaller than a penny, it has a voracious appetite. The emerald ash borer (EAB) is just one of a number of invasive species that is killing millions of trees around the country. Concerned about containing the spread of these pests, government officials have responded with a patchwork of local restrictions and quarantines on everything from wood packaging to firewood to tree seedlings. These laws are causing confusion in the marketplace, which is fueling the momentum behind efforts to develop national treatment and certification rules for various wood products.
The prospect of a national treatment requirement for solid wood packaging material (WPM) has been on the discussion board for the last few years. After holding a series of hearings across the country, it looks like the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is moving closer to implementing a new rule. Federal officials have not released any firm details, but it appears that APHIS may require that all domestic wood packaging material (pallets, crates, spools, packaging blocks, dunnage, etc.) comply with ISPM-15, the international voluntary standard that governs international transit. In addition to wood packaging, APHIS is also exploring the viability of treatment rules for firewood and possibly other wood products as well.
Government officials are talking about first issuing national rules for wood packaging because there is already a well established certification system in place for international transit. This system could easily be adapted to regulate domestic transit of WPM.
The spread of invasive species, particularly EAB and the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), have become a major concern for forest health.
APHIS stated, “These and other plant pests that could be transported interstate by wood packaging material pose a serious threat to U.S. agriculture and to natural, cultivated, and urban forests.”
Positions of Various Key Players
The National Wooden Pallet & Container Association (NWPCA) has been lobbying for a national rule requiring all pallets/wood packaging be treated according to ISPM-15, the international standard for wood packaging materials. In the five years since ISPM-15 was adopted by more than 140 nations, it has proven to be 99.9% effective, according to the NWPCA.
Bruce Scholnick, president of the NWPCA, stated his support for a national treatment requirement while deflecting blame for the domestic spread of pests away from wood pallets.
Scholnick said that firewood not wood packaging material is the major cause of the spread of these exotic wood pests in the United States. He stated, “APHIS has no evidence that wood packaging is the cause of the domestic spread of pests, but our industry is supporting adoption of ISPM-15 because we believe that regulation of some kind is inevitable. It is already the case in 13 states. What our industry is trying to avoid is one set of rules for California and another for Illinois…one set of rules for the Emerald Ash Borer and another for the Asian Gypsy Moth. ISPM-15 has proven to be effective for a myriad of global pests and wood species.”
The current situation has provided an unfair disadvantage to packaging suppliers in quarantine states where nearby areas do not require treatment which does add cost. Packaging suppliers must keep up-to-date on a complex set of local restrictions. Paul Chaloux, the national program manager for emergency and domestic programs for APHIS, called the current situation a “mosaic of restrictions…which can lead to confusion.”
Based on testimony at the first hearing and the industry grapevine, it appears that not all pallet companies are on board with the idea of a domestic treatment and certification requirement for wood pallets.
IFCO, the nation’s largest pallet recycler, called for more proof to demonstrate that a domestic treatment requirement of wood packaging is needed or would accomplish the stated goal. While IFCO did not oppose the concept of universal pallet treatment, its public representative did make a significant point that wooden pallets and containers are not the true issue. IFCO pointed out that the real culprit is firewood. And IFCO brought up the concern that universal heat treatment might be unnecessarily burdensome for smaller pallet companies.
Scholnick responded to this concern. He said, “In previous meetings between NWPCA and APHIS, concerns were expressed about the ability of small companies to comply. That same concern arose five years ago when the export rules went into effect. Here is what happened: the larger companies invested in heat treating equipment. The smaller companies did not have the capital for such a large expenditure, but they were able to purchase heat treating services economically – often from their closest competitor.”
LeRoi Cochran, business analyst and public spokesperson for IFCO, pointed to the EAB and its spread around the country as proof that the prime culprit is not wood pallets or packaging. He said that the current spread patterns do not match current supply chain patterns involving WPM.
The Firewood Dilemma
Without a real concerted effort to stop the spread of untreated firewood, a rule on WPM likely would make little difference in the fight to stop the spread of invasive species around the country. APHIS held a meeting on the firewood issue in Washington D.C. after the meeting on WPM.
It is clear that the firewood industry is way behind the pallet industry in terms of being able to institute any kind of domestic treatment and certification problem. There is no major firewood industry association. There is very little coordination or interaction among firewood suppliers, which are even more scattered and disjointed than wood pallet and packaging companies.
There are a handful of larger players in the firewood market. Most are small, rural businesses with little sophistication or awareness of the havoc that their products can make on the forests.
Chaloux said, “Firewood is often made from the highest risk material.” Although an appropriate use of dying or down trees, the reality is that it may contain pests and is likely to be spread across state lines by unsuspecting private citizens.
Geoff Friedman, president of Lost Coast Forest Products, operates one of the largest packaged firewood companies in the country serving retailers nationwide. Geoff said at the first hearing, “This problem with firewood is ravaging our forests.”
Operators like Friedman appear willing to help solve the problem. The real problem is the many small players that are not situated to treat material and may not be aware of the pest danger associated with infested firewood.
Unlike the pallet and wood packaging industries, which have the ISPM-15 standard for international transit, the firewood industry has no treatment standards or certification agencies. Treatment times can range widely depending on the firewood material and arrangement of the wood in the treatment chamber. Pallets are easier to ensure consistency from load to load.
The other major problem with firewood is public ignorance about the dangers associated with moving it. Pests like the EAB can’t travel far on their own. But campers can easily transport firewood in a vehicle across state lines and into forests that have no prior infestation. Any effective campaign to stop wood pests must involve increased public education.
Private landowners need to know the dangers of cutting their own wood and transporting it. Professional firewood processors need to be aware of the dangers and work to reduce activity that could make infestation problems worse. Some of this may be regulated although much of the effort will have to rely on people doing the right thing to protect forest resources.
Firewood has two primary sectors – packaged and bulk product. Heat treating and certification is likely to be much easier to cost justify for packaged material than bulk loads sold by the cord. The reason is that packaged firewood sells for a lot higher price, already comes with labeling and is viewed as a value added product. Bulk firewood is assumed to be a commodity material used primarily for heat energy not recreation.
Rightly so, firewood operators contended at the first public hearing that they are not the only producers of wood products linked to infestation issues. One local company suggested that the federal government shouldn’t just regulate some wood industries and leave others to perpetuate the problems.
Working Out the Details
Federal officials are still studying all the implications of national treatment rules for WPM and other wood products. There are a number of major questions that need to be answered before a national requirement is put in place. The impact of these issues could go a long way in deciding the success of any new initiative.
This includes how a national rule would be implemented and the length of time that the industry and private citizens would have to come into compliance. Tom Searles, the president of the American Lumber Standard Committee, recently estimated that most pallet and WPM heat treaters are only using 26% of their chamber capacity right now. There is a glut of excess capacity in the market although there isn’t enough to handle all of the demand if a national rule were imposed. Suppliers of heat treatment equipment indicate that they could quickly meet market demand to provide additional capacity.
A much stickier issue is who would actually police domestic transit to ensure compliance. Companies and individuals that are part of an official program would fall under the jurisdiction of their certification agency and APHIS officials. When it comes to the international program, the U.S. Custom and Border Protection is responsible for locating and stopping the entry of incompliant or infested WPM. Nobody seems to know who would take over this critical function for domestic transport. The states and local police and transportation officials don’t want to do it. Most of their budgets have been cut making it less likely that they can afford to police any national rule that gets enacted.
Officials have yet to work out what will happen with WPM that is not compliant. How the government decides to deal with those who try to skirt the laws will likely determine the success of any new program.
Insert Your Voice
Federal authorities are currently seeking input from anyone with a point to make on either a domestic treatment rule for WPM and/or firewood treatment. Now is your opportunity to state your case. APHIS also wants information on alternative treatments to methyl bromide.
Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Oct. 26. You may submit comments by either of the following methods:
• Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to the following website: http://www.regulations.gov/fdmspublic/component/main?main=DocketDetail&d=APHIS-2009-0016 to submit or view comments and to view supporting and related materials electronically.
• Postal Mail/Commercial Delivery: Please send two copies of your comment to Docket No. APHIS-2009-0016, Regulatory Analysis and Development, PPD, APHIS, Station 3A-03.8, 4700 River Road, Unit 118, Riverdale, MD 20737-1238. Please state that your comment refers to Docket No. APHIS-2009-0016.