Tiny beetles cut into timber industry's wood supplies
Written byROBIE WHELAN, Wall Street Journal
The invasive, tree-killing mountain pine beetle is threatening the supply of wood to North American lumber producers -- and making new homes more expensive.
The 5-millimeter-long beetles have destroyed 40 million to 45 million acres of trees in the West over the past 12 years, according to estimates by the Forest Service.
The beetles lay eggs under tree bark. Those eggs hatch into parasitic larvae that kill trees. Where there are infestations, there are fewer trees suitable for lumber, said Cynthia West, a Forest Service ecologist. "If you lose your entire inventory in one year, what you have to do is wait for the trees to regrow."
Colorado was the site of the first serious infestation, but the bugs have also spread to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Colder winters typically kill off the beetles, but a string of mild winters over the last several years has helped them spread.
It appears that destruction will continue. A report from lumber-industry consultant International Wood Markets Group predicted that the bugs will kill as much as 58 percent of the pine in the area before the infestation has run its course.
Some analysts contend that the beetle is the biggest financial threat to timber companies since the federal government decided to protect the endangered spotted owl 20 years ago, shuttering logging operations on millions of acres of federal land.