The beetle epidemic that’s swept Colorado’s forests since 1996 has left behind millions of acres of dead trees. But that doesn’t mean all the trees are worthless. There is a window of time when the dying tree is more valuable, and more attractive to the Colorado timber industry, says Randy Piper, who has worked on beetle-killed wood products for 10 years.

Piper’s company, GreenWay Building Products LLC in Denver, sells a variety of beetle kill wood products, for use making floors, wall panels, molding and trim.

Colorado has 24.4 million acres of forest land. Since the mountain pine beetle was first spotted in 1996, it has killed about 3.4 million acres of trees, mostly in the northern part of the state. A second kind of beetle, the spruce beetle, is sweeping across Colorado’s southern forests. It’s already killed 1.1 million acres of trees and is considered the fastest-spreading beetle in the state.

When the beetle first lands in a tree, the clock starts ticking, said Piper, the founder and owner of GreenWay Building Products LLC in Denver. For a few months, maybe even a year, after the larvae have started their devastating work the tree still has enough moisture in it — is still alive enough — that it can stand straight, and if cut down the tree’s timber will be relatively free of fissures or cracks, Piper said.

That means the infested but still-living wood is more valuable than later in the cycle, when the tree’s needles have turned the rust-colored brown, he said. That later point, when the timber is drier, means it’s harder for machines to process into straight blue-stained boards that can be used in a home or commercial office, such as on a floor or a wall. And as it gets more difficult to process, the value of the wood drops — making it a losing business proposition to spend good money to acquire wood that will chew up equipment, and might not have a high-dollar market in the end, Piper said.

From the Denver Business Journal: