As climate change warms areas of Colorado, mountain pine beetles (Dendroctonus ponderosae) have infested lodgepole pines and drastically reduced their numbers. Of the 1.5 million acres of forest in the state, nearly 70 percent of lodgepole pines have been wiped out by the insects. As the trees die, they fall to the ground and provide fuel for forest fires. The wood has also become an attractive choice for designers and architect, because no trees have to technically be cut down for material, and they sport a beautiful blue hue caused by fungus the beetles carry.
Normally, the beetles play an important role in the ecosystem by weeding out weakened or diseased trees. However, hot and dry summers have contributed to the insect being able to expand its range and attack vulnerable pines. In addition to being utilized as flooring, paneling, or siding, the beetle-kill wood has also been mixed into compost or harnessed for biochar to create electricity. While the death of the trees is harmful for the ecosystem, it seems to be good for business. The decay of rotting wood would eventually release more carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to the overall conditions speeding the forest infestation. By harvesting and marketing the beetle-kill “blue pine,” carbon could remain sequestered and timber from diseased trees could replace that of healthier plants.
The trend toward building with beetle-kill pine has already begun to spread. Building product supplier GreenWay has been marketing the wood for nearly a decade, and is developing a national program for retailers for the summer of this year. By taking advantage of the market, GreenWay hopes to ease pressures on state and federal governments to clear downed trees. Although the beetles have introduced a massive blight to the landscape, humans are still finding silver linings amidst the destruction of the forest.