A Greener Use for Beetle-Killed Trees

Colorado has millions of acres of pines throughout its forests that have been killed by an infestation of beetles. New Town Builders, a residential homebuilder in Denver, Colorado, has begun using salvaged wood from these trees for the structural framing of homes it is constructing. The company was approached about building a single demonstration home using wood from lodgepole pine trees which had been killed by the mountain pine beetle. New Town found that the wood was discolored but structurally sound and has now begun using the “blue wood” for all of their framing.

The past few summers have been particularly dry throughout the region, which provide ideal conditions for an outbreak of the beetles which have devastated the forests of lodgepole pine. The beetle kills the tree by tunneling under the bark and cutting off nutrients to the tree. The wood turns blue when the beetle exposes it to blue stain fungus. While this changes the appearance of the wood, it is structurally still perfectly good.

Finding a use for the wood helps to conserve other forests, and will help protect these forests as the dead trees are harvested rather than left as a fire hazard (which is doubly a cause for concern with the present dry conditions in the area). Colorado has more than three million acres of devastated timber forests.

Because of the dry conditions in the region, beetle-killed trees that have been dead for as long as 10 years may still be harvestable and usable. And New Town Builders is also now using regionally harvested material, rather than getting their framing lumber from more distant suppliers.

The company is finding that the blue wood is not significantly cheaper than other framing lumber. The trees still need to be cut down and transported, milled and graded like any other lumber, so there is little cost savings. But, New Town is taking advantage of a local resource and supporting local jobs at the mill that provides the wood, and transport is less expensive since the source is more local. It is hoped that other builders in the region will recognize the usability of this local resource and begin using it, as well.

Note: This should not to be confused with BluWood a coated, treated wood product.

Credits: CC BY-SA 3.0 Hustvedt (#1), USDA Forest Service (#3); New Town Builders (#2).

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  • Michael

    Locally-sourcing infected timber sounds promising. Is the company trying to reforest with more beetle-resistant trees?

  • guest

    I’m not sure I understand the title says “a greener use” greener than what?  Is this greenwashing? seems fishy.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      Greener than letting them sit in a forest and rot.  These trees are dead and can be harvested and used within a certain period of time but it takes some effort to make it happen.  In this case, the builder is using locally-sourced, dead trees instead of an alternative that’s either living or not local.  Plus, by clearing out the dead trees, the risk of fire (and destruction of living trees) is reduced.  This is legit.

      • healthyforests

        Preston your oversimplifying this issue, dead trees can be part of a healthy forest ecology and to call removing them green seems like a stretch.  Google salvage logging, its not necessary a good thing ( example: http://www.fsccanada.org/docs/salvage%20logging%20discussion.pdf?LanguageID=EN-US )  if there are leed points for this lumber or it has fsc or similar 3rd party certification then i’d grant it green but other wise i’d agree with the previous poster, not clearly green.

        • http://twitter.com/AndrewMichler Andrew Michler

          I live right in the middle of a Colorado Ponderosa forest getting hit hard by pine beetle right now. While the skepticism of whether it is green or not is healthy it is importaint to recognized that this kill off is in historic proportions. These forest are not getting hit in pockets but completely wiped out. That biomass is a very usable industrial material but we have no infrastructure to make use of it. Using the lumber for building offsets many live trees. The biomass is an excellent heat source for industrial boilers offsetting NG. And its local, reducing transportation. That carbon will end up in the atmosphere if not fixed in a building. There will be plenty of woody mass left on the ground for what comes next (nobody really knows with climate change). So this is not considered a greenwash in my opinion.

        • http://psproefrock.wordpress.com Philip Proefrock

          I don’t agree that the presence of LEED points turns this, or any practice from a non-green one into a green building method.  If it is a green practice (and I do believe that harvesting these trees and using them in construction is a better practice than leaving them to rot), then it is such, whether or not it offers a potential extra point under LEED.

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  • http://psproefrock.wordpress.com Philip Proefrock

    @Michael – Not sure if anyone is working on reforestation at this point.  The beetle is native, not an imported pest. The lodgepole (and other pines) are generally resistant, as long as they are healthy, but the stress of especially dry conditions recently has led to the massive die-off of the trees.

  • http://twitter.com/AGHbuilders AGHbuilders

    What a great way to use something that seemed useless to most.  Although I wonder with the price not differing much, if people will be hesitant to buy this wood due to its problems

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