The mountain pine beetle has devastated forests throughout the west, and specifically Montana, and has also affected the desirability of the dead and dying trees by timber producers.

Dan Loeffler is a research associate with the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, and recently examined the impact of mountain pine beetles on costs, operations and timber product value for trees in Montana.

The trees are found in three stages of mortality, green, red and gray.

“What would be considered a desirable saw log is in the green stage,” he said. “But as it moves into the red stage which can be used as a lower value post or pole, and then the gray stage where it’s just fuel or pulp wood, if that’s even possible.”

“A tree that’s in the green stage, which is dead but the needles are still green, is not as much of a problem to handle as opposed to trees in the red or even the gray stage,” said Loeffler. “Some harvest operators will avoid pine beetle impacted trees in the later stages of mortality because they’re just too difficult to deal with. Because log haulers usually get paid by the green ton, they’d rather load up their trucks with live green trees rather than going to a site that had been impacted by the pine beetle.”

Loeffler said beetle-killed timber becomes less and less economical the longer it remains unharvested, so any process that would delay harvesting presents a greater financial risk to a timber operator.