A majority of the beetle-kill mountain pine forests destroyed by the mountain pine beetle remain standing as a hugely valuable unclaimed resource for building and manufacturing needs. But if left unclaimed, this same resource will transform into dry tinder releasing CO2 and potentially causing devastating forest fires.
Companies taking the lead
A number of millers, builders, and manufacturers have set impressive examples using this resource, but the amount of dead wood needing to be harvested is staggering. Here are a few in Colorado.
One company, Colorado-based Jeremiah Johnson Log Homes, has built some extraordinary structures using beetle-killed pine. Other enterprising companies have milled building timber, built shipping pallets, cut dead trees into firewood, or ground the remains into useful base for compost.
GreenWay Building Products – “Our Mission is to better utilize natural resources such as the dying forests in the Rocky Mountain Range, and build our business with strong emphasis on a ‘blended value’ approach.”
Sustainable Lumber Company – “We hand pick beetle kill Ponderosa Pine trees that average 200-400 years old.”
Positive efforts to use beetle-killed pine are small in comparison to the millions and millions of dead forest acres
Scientists at the National Atmospheric Research Center in Boulder, Colo., believe that the impact of dead or dying forests may actually be changing rainfall patterns, especially across the Intermountain regions from Washington State, where this month they’ve seen the worse wildfires in recorded history southward through Oregon and drought-parched California and eastward through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.
“Although trees pull large amounts of carbon dioxide from the air as they photosynthesize in daylight, the trees and the microbes in soil beneath them also respire, or “breathe out,” carbon dioxide. Just as when humans breathe, this adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.”
The geographic distribution of D. ponderosaecomprises southern British Columbia, Canada, east to South Dakota, and south to Baja, California, Mexico, and New Mexico (S. Wood 1982). Recently, D. ponderosae has been reported in Nebraska (Costello and Schaupp 2011). Figure 2 portrays the distribution as presented by S. Wood (1982), however, the insect is expanding its range northward in British Columbia and eastward in Alberta, Canada (Fauria and Johnson 2009, Robertson et al. 2009, de la Giroday 2012) and is now colonizing jack pine, Pinus ba Pinus banksiana Lamb., in eastern Alberta (Cullingham et al. 2011).
From Canada’s Yukon Territory to New Mexico, pine trees by the hundreds of millions are succumbing to a fungus that the beetles carry. The pine needles of infected trees first turn a violent red, then they fall, and, finally, the dead tree topples over. Year by year, communities have watched a scourge advance across mountainsides and through neighborhoods, trees turning from green to red to gray. The beetles now attack 12 pine species, from the high-elevation whitebark pine to the lower-elevation ponderosa and piñon. The blight has devastated 3.3 million acres in Colorado alone since the 1990s.
There may be positive news about this tree disaster. “I think the mountain pine beetles are running out of trees, for the most part,” says Jeffrey Hicke (University of Idaho).Hicke has recently led several comprehensive assessments of the beetle outbreaks and their impacts on wildfire (PDF), carbon (abstract), and tree mortality (abstract). Hicke notes that once an infestation rages through a suitable stand of trees, it may not be able to leap to the next vulnerable region, which could be hundreds of miles away.
Regardless, the need to quickly deal with the leftovers from pine beetle deaths is urgent. And the end materials are very green.
Uses for beetle-kill pine
- building lumber
- shipping containers
Sources: National Journal, UCAR
Photo: Few healthy trees in beetle kill forest from Shutterstock, Bark beetle lifecycle from CSU