The slow fade of Colorado’s mountain pine beetle is triggering a massive shift in the timber industry

Jason Blevins
Colorado Sun
Large lodgepole pine trees are unloaded for processing at the Montrose sawmill in this 2006 file photo. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado’s forests have been waging a losing battle against tree-killing beetles for more than 15 years. Now, after marching across the state and killing millions of acres of pine forest, the burrowing, fungus-spreading mountain pine beetles are slowly losing steam.

While other beetles have thrived in Colorado’s drought-ravaged mountains, the mountain pine beetles have reigned as the state’s most nefarious pest. But the mountain pine beetle epidemic was always going to end, as there are only so many ponderosa and lodgepole trees in the 3.3 million acres affected by the tree-killing insects in Colorado.

And with that decline, a timber industry that has thrived on a once seemingly endless flow of dead pine trees is transitioning to new types of timber and logging.

This also means the end is near for the coveted blue-stained wood the pests leave behind. They spread a fungus in trees, leaving a distinctive blue hue that has made beetle-kill lodgepole a high-value wood for cabinetry, paneling and trim work.

Dave Sitton’s Aspen Wall Wood mill in Dolores transitioned from pure aspen paneling to mostly beetle kill almost 20 years ago. Now he’s preparing to transition back.

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