The pine mountain beetle saga continues

mountainpinebeetldWe have made several posts on the pine mountain beetle and its affect on lumber prices.   The pine mountain beetle is native to the western regions of North America.  The beetle will burrow into mature pine trees and consume all its sap.  The pine tree will eventually die.  The beetle is actually considered part of a natural reforesting cycle where dying trees fall and make way for the newer trees.  The pine mountain beetle has destroyed 47 million acres of trees in British Columbia and Alberta Canada and over 3 million acres of trees in Colorado. All things added up, the destruction so far is well over 120 million acres of pine trees across the US and Canada.

The mountain pine outbreak usually runs in cycles of 50 to 100 years and lasts around 5-10 years.  The most recent epidemic started around 1995 and is going on 20 years.   The recent lengthy epidemic is believed to be caused by climate change.  Cold temperature in early fall will kill off the beetle, but we have not seen the early fall cold snaps recently.   The polar vortex weather we had last year, while certainly created record low temperatures in many regions,  did very little damage to the beetle because by the time the temperature changed, the beetle was embedded several inches into the pine tree and insulated from the extreme cold.

Pine is one of the most common types of timber used in housing construction; it is light weight, but strong and easy to process.  The pine mountain beetle epidemic is causing significant issues in forests:

  • Logging and processing dead pine trees, while viable, is much more expensive.
  • The large number of dead trees increases the risk of forest fires.
  • Falling dead trees are presenting risks to campers and blocking roads

Dead pine trees called beetle kill lumber are being processed at a greater rate because the higher timber prices make it more profitable for lumber companies.

When will this epidemic end?

The epidemic in Colorado peeked in 2008 is ebbing at a pretty fast rate with current areas of infestation down to below 10% of where it use to be.   Why the reduction?  The pine beetle is eating itself out of food.   It only goes after the mature trees and has stayed away from the young saplings.  Unfortunately this has turned much of Colorado pine forests from lush green to grey.   It may take 90 to 100 years for the forests in Colorado to return to normal.

The epidemic in British Columbia and Alberta is still raging.   Forest experts are worried that the epidemic will spread eastward.   Canada is investing considerable resources in forestry management in order to try to contain this issue.  According to University of Alberta Website:

More than one billion cubic metres of mature pine has been lost, damaging forest industries, recreational use, watersheds, and plant and wildlife habitats. Thousands of jobs have been lost, and governments in British Columbia and Alberta, as well as the federal government in Ottawa, have spent well over a billion dollars in public funds trying to stem the attack and diversify economies – See more at: http://uofa.ualberta.ca/news-and-events/newsarticles/2014/august/attack-of-the-pine-beetle#sthash.p8CghktC.dpuf

Over the next few years “beetle kill” lumber may be the rule rather than the exception.   The drawbacks are:

  • Because the wood is dry, saw mills need to take extra precautions in processing, requiring more capital and labor
  • Much of the beetle kill lumber is in low accessible areas, making it more difficult and expensive for lumber companies to get to the areas and haul the lumber to the mills.
  • There are cosmetic issues with beetle kill pine with brown stains, tests have shown that there is little structural issues

As the pine forests continue to decline, the beetle kill option becomes a necessity.   The long term effects include lumber prices rising, but also the economic landscape of the Canadian forest industry will rapidly change unless effective methods for control are developed.

As one forest scholar put it. “In the scope of 100-200 years, this is probably good for the environment.” Unfortunately, most economic systems can’t wait that long.

Other areas of the US currently not affected by the pine mountain beetle are now concerned.  A recent article appeared in CBS Minnesota: Minnesota Research Aims At Mountain Pine Beetles.  The gist of the article is that based on a conclusion of a 3 year study done be the University of Minnesota: That there is a very real possibility that the pine mountain beetle epidemic could stretch into the forests of Minnesota and move eastward from there.   There is no evidence of this yet, but testing is being performed.

Packnet uses a variety of wood products in its packaging solutions including plywood, OSB, and timber products that include pine.