Could the latest cold spell help the wood and forest industries?

The first week of 2014 as brought record breaking cold to most parts of the US. Many areas of the country are experiencing temperatures that have not been seen for decades. The severe cold does present a potential upside for the wood industry. Various types of beetles have been damaging wood in forestry products at epidemic levels for the last 5-8 years. Some of the eradication and prevention efforts taken in North America are working and in other cases not. Damage to trees from these beetles is in the millions of acres.

In terms of damage and impact, there are there are three types of beetles worth talking about; the Pine Mountain beetle, the Asian Long Horn Beetle and the Emerald Ash Borer.

The Emerald Ash Boreremerald ash borer impact on forests

The Emerald Ash Borer is an invasive species that is killing 100s of millions of ash trees in the Midwest, Upper Midwest the Eastern part of the US and into Eastern Canada. This beetle is native to Asia and is believed to have been transported to the US in solid wood packaging material back in the early 1990’s. It was first discovered in the US in 2002. There are various treatments being tested such as biological, chemical and quarantine. The Emerald Ash Bore will go after most types of ash trees, although not all types of ash are highly vulnerable. If left unchecked the Emerald Ash Borer could wipe out most types of ash trees in the US in the next 20 years.

 

Ash is used in furniture; tool handles and sports equipment such as tennis rackets and baseball bats. In construction, ash is used for some cabinetry and paneling. The wood is known for its hardness, stiffness and toughness, while being relatively light weight.

 

Effect of Cold Weather: The Emerald Ash Borer is susceptible to extreme cold weather and there is a very good chance that a significant portion of the Ash Borers population can be wiped out with the recent extreme cold experienced in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and the northern parts of Iowa, Illinois and Ohio. Other parts of the country experiencing longer periods of cold weather could also see some reduction in the population. It is doubtful that the southern states will see low enough temperatures for a long enough periods of time to significantly reduce the Emerald Ash Borer population.

 

Asian Long Horn BeetleAsian longhorned beetle

The Asian Long Horn Beetle is an evasive species that is prevalent in the eastern US. , with 47 US states at risk. New York, Ohio and Massachusetts are actively fighting this pest. This species was first discovered in the US in the early 1990s and is native to China. It is believed to have been transported by wood packaging materials.

The Asian Long Horn Beetle attacks a variety of hardwood trees including Elm, Maple, Willow, Birch, Poplar, Mountain Ash and others. Hardwood is used as furniture, flooring, and paneling and is both attractive and durable. Once the beetle infests a tree, nothing can be done to save it. There is potential that this beetle could destroy millions of acres of hardwood forests if left unchecked. The primary method of treatment is quarantine and destruction of the trees. There have been chemical pesticides tried with some success.

There is little evidence that suggests a long prolonged cold spell could reduce the infestation, although this beetle is rarely found in the colder climates.

Mountain Pine Beetle

Unlike the Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Long Horn Beetle, the Mountain Pine Beetle is native to North America. Currently it is infesting timber in western US and Canada at epidemic proportions. The Mountain Pine Beetle infests many pine trees such as Lodgepole, Ponderosa, Whitebark, Scotch, Jack Pine and Limber pine. The Mountain Pine Beetle has infested over 90 million acres at an 88% kill rate. The beetle burrows into the tree and lays its eggs; an infested tree loses most of its sap and dies. Pine trees can be harvested for lumber years after death; the economics and practicality of this can be an issue.

Ecologically, the Mountain Pine Beetle is part of the natural restoration of forest lands as the beetle goes after and kills old trees which make room for new saplings. They seem to appear in 50 year cycles. The current infestation epidemic was caused by a combination of warmer than normal weather and forest preservation practices. While there is research being done on methods to control this insect, very little is being done to stop or control the spread. Once most of pine has been killed, the beetle will starve and decline. While eventually new pine saplings can replace the fallen trees, the economic impact on the lumber industry is significant. While sawmills are actively harvesting pine trees that have fallen (beetle kill lumber), the cost to process this lumber is higher.
While processing beetle kill wood is addressing short term supply issues, one wonders what may happen in 5 to 10 years. Dead pine trees are viable to process for around 10 years. The next generation of pine will take at least 30 to 50 years before being suitable to use as lumber. Local regions that depend on pine trees for both timber processing and recreation will be significantly impacted in the next 5 years.

Effect of Cold Weather: While the Mountain Pine Beetle is vulnerable to severe cold, the impact will probably not be significant. Experts believe that the embedded beetle could not withstand temperatures of -4 degrees F. This means that the outside of the tree bark would need to be -30 degrees F. Once winter sets in, the beetle naturally produces an “antifreeze” that allows it to withstand colder temperatures. The best time for a cold snap would be early fall or late spring when the beetle is not prepared. It is possible that longer periods of less severe cold could have an effect, but the exact impact is not known. This latest severe cold is mainly affecting the North Central US. The Western US is experiencing colder weather, but not severe enough to impact the infestation.

The US and Canada are both stepping up efforts to battle the beetle infestation that is impacting one or our most important natural resources. Significant research is being conducted that focuses on eradication, prevention and recovery. It is still unknown how significant beetle infestation will be to our economy and general recreation. Packnet uses wood and wood products in many of its packaging solutions. Lumber shortages due to a number of reasons have impacted costs of packaging wood and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.