Forestry: Pine-beetle payback

The mountain pine beetle has killed half of the lodgepole pine forest in British Columbia since the outbreak began in the 1990s. But while the impact on the landscape and the logging industry has been devastating, lately the industry has been learning to adapt — boosting allowable cuts in afflicted areas to salvage more of the wood sooner, while finding markets for new products made from the dead timber among a range of eco-conscious buyers.

One of the best-known of those customers is Ikea Canada, which is using the distinctive blue-tinted wood (caused by staining from a fungi carried by the beetle) to make bed slats. It also used it to produce thousands of lapel pins for its sustainability campaign “Ikea Our Way.” Other buyers are using the wood for siding, flooring, furniture and picture frames. Meanwhile, one of the most innovative creations comes courtesy of Sorin Pasca, a master’s student at the University of Northern B.C. in Prince George. He found that the pine-beetle-kill wood was an especially good ingredient to mix with cement to produce a new wood-composite-like building product. He’s named it “beetlecrete.”

Looking ahead, the industry hopes that when the world’s attention focuses on the Winter Olympics in February, the decision by the Richmond, B.C., engineering firm Fast + Epp to use over a million feet of the lumber in the 2010 Olympic Oval roof will pay dividends. Already, the skating arena has received the prestigious Sports or Leisure Structures award from The Institution of Structural Engineers — affirmation enough for Archie MacDonald, a spokesperson for the Council of Forest Industries, who applauds the project as a “showcase” of the wood’s potential.