Can Beetle Kill lumber reduce the pressure on lumber prices?

on September 24, 2012

Back in June, we posted an article relating to Beetle Kill lumber.  Click here for blog post.  Over the last few years the forests of Western US and Canada have been infested with the Mountain Pine Beetle.  The beetles bore into trees to lay their eggs, which cuts off the supply of sap throughout the tree and eventually kills it.  Warmer than usual winters has been blamed for the massive spread as cold weather tends to kill off the beetle.

While efforts to stem the spread of this beetle are not successful, there are significant efforts to make use of this lumber as it is estimated that 100,000 trees a day are dying from this insect.  Many lumber companies are now selling lumber processed from beetle kill wood.  Also entrepreneurs and environmentalists are working on creative uses such as furniture and cabinetry.  Some companies are processing beetle kill wood as pellets for wood burning stoves.

It still remains to be determined if increasing the use of beetle kill wood will alleviate lumber shortages for the construction industry.  There are two challenges for processing this lumber efficiently.

  1. Transporting the dead lumber to saw mills can be problematic as there is not always easy access and pathways to the dead trees.
  2. A major fire in a British Columbia sawmill last spring that killed two workers was believed to be caused by beetle kill lumber.  The lumber is much dryer; therefore the dust is more combustible.  Insurance companies have raised rates on mills processing beetle kill lumber.  The Canadian Government initially is requesting saw mills adopt more rigorous practices.  However, since this fire, there are some who dispute the claim that beetle kill lumber is any more dangerous than other types of lumber.   The official findings from the fire are due this fall and may determine the direction that saw mills need to take.

Currently, there is still a shortage of construction grade lumber as new housing still seems strong and the supply chain still weakened from past shutdowns.  Processing beetle kill lumber has the potential of helping supply in niche industries, but it is currently doubtful that this will have a major impact on lumber prices.