Jun 27 2012

Campground Blue Pine: These salvaged trees can save your style


Our Campground Blue Pine is a good wood to choose for your next green building project.  Eco-conscious builders and designs everywhere will appreciate its story, which begins in forests across the West...

Starting in the mid-90's, a massive beetle epidemic has swept across the arid lands west of the Mississippi.  To say that it is the largest insect infestation in American history is, in truth, an understatement of the changes occuring in America's forests.  So far more than 150 million acres of pine forest, from southern Colorado deep into Canada and from the Dakotas to the Cascades, have fallen prey to the beetles, turning formerly green mountains into vast slopes of dead brown skeletons.  And the beetles' range continues to expand each year.

As can be expected, the causes of this epidemic are complex.  Warming temperatures have enabled the beetles to reproduce all year and also survive the formerly harsh winters that once kept their numbers down.  The natural fire cycle that once cleaned beetles out of forests, thinned stands of trees, and enabled many tree species to reproduce, is now suppressed from the first spark.  And hotter, drier summers have stressed trees, making them more vulnerable to attack and less able to fight off the intruders. 

When the beetles bore their first holes in a tree, they introduce a fungus that they carry around in a specialized pouch in their heads.  The two species work hand-in-hand, with one facilitating the other's success.  As scientists have recently observed, the fungus eats the tree's natural antifungal resins, turning what should be a poison into a food source.  As a final gesture of goodwill to its insect hosts, the fungus injects the tree with a chemical that basically turns off the tree's water main, preventing it from circulating water and sap through its system.  This allows the beetles to make their final push into the now-defenseless tree.

It is this same fungus that lends the infested trees their beautiful blue stain.  Today, blue pine is a representation of our changing world, a natural product that for many years was seen as defective but which today we appreciate because of its ample supply, its charming aesthetic properties, and its poignant story.

In fact, cutting the blue pine trees can be a positive and proactive approach to managing the forests.  Strategically removing dead trees from high-use areas such as campgrounds and parks can help reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and property damage -- provided it is done in an ecologically sensitive and responsible way (increasing evidence shows that even beetle-kill forests are full of wildlife, and forest floors bloom with wildflowers and insects following a good burn). 

Plus the milling of these trees provides jobs in areas that have been economically suppressed for many years, restoring lumber jobs to towns that developed for them. 

And, of course, each time a person chooses blue pine for their project over another wood alternative, they are choosing to preserve the vitality--and the carbon sequestration abilities--of a living tree.

Blue pine is ideal for interior applications including wall and ceiling paneling and furniture.  While it is softer than some other types of wood, with the proper care it can also be used as a durable, cost-effective, and all-natural option for flooring.  We especially like the work of several artists and woodworkers who have begun to use denim pine, including the modernist designs at I've Got Wood Furniture in Colorado (see photo at left) and the minimalist tables and chairs designed and built by students for Vancouver's 2010 Winter Olympics.  We also love the sweeping back patio roof and walls at Rontoms in Portland, which JRA Green Building recently made out of our locally-sourced blue pine.

Sustainable Northwest Wood is proud to partner with small mills that are salvaging beetle-killed pine trees from public parks and campgrounds where the dead standing trees pose a risk to human users.

In addition to our in-stock paneling in both 6" and 8" faces, we also carry 4/4 lumber in widths up to 12" that is perfect for furniture, trim, and other creative applications, and 8/4 live-edge slabs in lengths up to 12' and widths up to 20".