Beetle-killed Wood can Become Beautiful Furniture

By Clare Tattersall

About 20 years ago, a rice-sized insect began to wreak havoc on British Columbia’s interior landscape. In one year alone, 140 cubic metres of mature lodgepole pine was wiped out. What was left behind was a barren forest filled with blue-grey stained, needle-less trees.

This situation is not unique to the country’s westernmost province, nor Canada. Similar devastation can also be found throughout the western United States. However, all is not lost, thanks to companies like Killwood in B.C., and Alpine Blue Home and Azure Furniture Co. in Colorado, that specialize in making furniture and home decor products from recycled, reclaimed and sustainable timber. This includes beetle-killed pine. Instead of letting these trees rot on the stump, they salvage them.

Beetle-killed pine is the term used for pine trees killed by the mountain pine beetle, a member of a group of insects known as bark beetles. This small insect has decimated more than 100 million acres of timber at an 80 to 90 per cent kill rate in Canada and the U.S. The mountain pine beetle bores into the wood, lays its eggs and ultimately suffocates the tree by cutting off its water and nutrient supply. The beetle lives out its life cycle within the bark, except for when adults emerge and attack new trees.

After the beetle kills a tree it becomes known as dead standing timber. If left in the forest, the dead tree will eventually fall over, decay and either become fuel for catastrophic wildfires or release its carbon back into the atmosphere, resulting in higher greenhouse gases. However, if harvested within five years, the tree can be manufactured into wood products like furniture and decorative accessories, such as mirrors, wine racks and more.

The distinct blue ‘stain’ of beetle-killed pine results in one-of-a-kind wood products. Created by the fungus carried by the mountain pine beetle that stops the tree from producing its natural defence resin, each board’s colour varies and can include blue, purple, brown, orange, yellow, red and pink. The ‘tinting’ is purely cosmetic and has no effect on the structural integrity of the wood. And because it is an all-natural and organic product, no stains or paints are needed to enhance it.

Beetle-killed wood products are generally more expensive than those manufactured from living trees because only approximately half of a beetle-killed tree can be salvaged. As well, it’s a very labour intensive production process, often requiring defects in the wood to be manually removed using a mitre saw. However, no two finished products are alike and salvaging the dead trees is good for the planet. Researchers estimate a single devastated forest roughly the size of Labrador would release 270,000 megatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to the climate crisis.

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