What is Beetle Kill Pine?

Sarah Ward's picture
Sarah Ward
Consultant
September 25, 2014

What is beetle kill pine and how is it different from sustainably certified wood?

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Rob Freeman's picture
September 26
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Beetle kill pine are trees that have been felled by the mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae. This pest has a one-year life cycle during which it seeks a new home from its original source of development, tunnels under the bark of a pine tree, and finds a mate. If successful, an egg gallery is formed beneath the bark, which spawns on average over 50 larvae that begin feeding in an outward-bound fashion, renewing the life cycle.

While trees' natural defense mechanisms are in play, problems arise when the beetles introduce a blue stain fungus that prevents the pines from repelling and killing the beetles that are trying to host within the tree. The larvae eat the cambium layer of the tree. The result is starvation as the trees’ water and nutrition transport channels become blocked.

The cycle described above occurred for years without dramatically affecting forests, specifically in Colorado. What marks this recent change is with a warmer climate, the beetles are less likely to freeze and die off in the winter. Estimates of loss number in the millions of acres, and the beetles are certainly not selective. The devastation has occurred in national forests as well as on private land.

Driving along beautiful mountain passes in Colorado, one sees huge stands of pine trees that were once green and are now a dullish red. After the foliage has dropped, the trees appear grey. However, beneath this dull appearance are markers of this destruction that many find beautiful. The bluish hue that results from the fungus expelled from the beetles creates a patina of striated patterns along the grain and adds a unique and elegant look to processed wood products.

Trees can be shredded for use in biomass boilers, and pellet plants can process the trees into sawdust and then pack into pellets for wood stoves. Saw mills can process the pine trees for both structural and finished wood products.

There has been some discussion regarding the structural integrity of beetle kill, but the fungus dies when the trees do since it cannot survive without minimal moisture content. Instead of importing construction materials from remote locations, we have an opportunity to thin our forests of dead trees, find purpose for the finished wood products, source and ship locally, and discover a new type of beauty in the blue stained beetle kill pine.

Although using beetle kill pine is sustainable, it is not specifically included in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating systems, which specifies using only certified wood from the Forest Stewardship Council.

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