Pine-beetle epidemic changes debate over logging Montana's forests

Will it increase support for salvage logging?

Of course it will!

Will it increase support for Tester’s Wilderness plus logging bill? Yes!

Will there actually be an increase in salvage logging? Hard to say.

Some points needs to be made. First, this beetle epidemic is not just a Montana thing. It extends from the Yukon nearly to Mexico among pine trees. Logging of green trees to get ahead of beetle infestation is hopeless. It hasn’t worked anywhere in Canada or the United States because this is an extraordinary event fueled by a series of warm winters.

Secondly you can offer the dead trees for sale, but the timber operator needs to make a profit.  They are presently trying to ramp up the salvage in Canada and the United States.  If demand for a product is stable, an increase in the supply drives down the price. The price offered for lumber or chips from dead pine is already low because of the depressed economy. A ramp up of logging will drive the price still lower.

These salvage sales might find no one who will log them. Fortunately, dead lodgepole pine, left standing, does not deteriorate nearly as fast as dead spruce or fir, so some of these might still be worthwhile 5 years from now.

Finally, these dead forests will not necessarily all burn. Dead pine burns like gasoline while it still wears its dead red needles, but after they drop, the fire danger goes down rapidly in many stands. However, when they topple over in the wind on top of each other, the fire danger goes up again.

Pine-beetle epidemic changes debate over logging Montana’s forests. By Jennifer McKee. Missoulian State Bureau


Here is George Wuerthner’s interesting and detailed  essay, which I mentioned and others too in the comments.

It turns out that yesterday there was an essay in Writers on the Range about the big beetle kill in Colorado. Folks, including editorial writers, need to understand that this is not a Montana beetle kill or a Colorado beetle kill. It is a continental beetle kill.





  1. jburnham Avatar

    The thing that really bothers me about the media coverage of beetle kill and the subsequent calls for more logging is that they begin with questionable premises. One, that dead trees are inherently ‘unhealthy’ and bad for forests. Two, that beetle killed trees will increase the frequency, severity or extent of wildfires, and three that logging is a good solution to deal with the previous two. All the news stories just take these things for granted, I’ve yet to see any real discussion in the popular press about any of these premises. We just skip right to the part about how much more logging is necessary to save the forests.

  2. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    You are right that the MSM assumes all of these things. The writings of George Wuerther are terrific as readible and expert counterweights to this, although I do think George may go a bit far.

    Here is one of his essays: Beetle Hysteria Again.
    Some foresters think a tiny tree-killing beetle is heightening the risk of big wildfires. They should think again. By George Wuerthner. New West

  3. jburnham Avatar

    Yeah, George seems to have actually read some of the research. There’s no shortage of relevant scientific literature on the subject, but I think the conclusions are too nuanced and the politics too juicy for the press.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    The media has learned a bit about fires. Back in the time of the great Yellowstone fires of ’88 and before, they were just horrible — every fire was thought to destroy the land completely and for life span on anyone yet living.

    Unfortunately, the recent decline of newspapers has thrown a lot of the knowledgeable out of work or into a new profession.

    Fortunately this year there haven’t been a lot of fires in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and northern Utah.

  5. Ryan Avatar

    I personally would rather see the fires happen, our nations smokey the bear campaign has comprimised the health of our forests in numerous ways.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Yeh. I pretty favor the fires as the cost effective solution and best for regrowth.

    I hate the summertime smoke, but these dead forests are not as fire prone as they think.

  7. DB Avatar

    There’s no good reason to allow logging on some lands, especially to inhibit large scale beetle kill and reduce possible fires, to justify wilderness. But the Missoulian article does make a good point for proactive logging around Helena to avoid beetle kill in campgrounds, parks, private lands, etc if the management objective is to prevent severe tree killing in limited areas. Thinning certain stands stressed by density or drought might help prevent beetle mortality. But it’s hopeless on a landscape scale. As Ralph points out there’s so much dead and dying pine throughout the west that you couldn’t give the stuff away and make a profit. There’s a fascinating discussion following George’s essay (Ralph’s link above) if you’re into forest ecology, fires etc.

  8. Larry Thorngren Avatar

    I am shaded by Ponderosa pines in the morning and by Lodgepole pines in the evening. A lot of the Lodgepole in the area are dying from the beetles, but the Ponderosa seem to be ok. Lodgepoles are sort of like Cheatgrass, only on a much longer time line. Cheatgrass grows,crowds out more desirable species, matures, dies, and burns in one season, while Lodgepoles take a hundred years or so to do the same thing. I am starting to think that we should treat Lodgepoles like they were big weeds.

  9. Kaitlin McBride Avatar
    Kaitlin McBride

    Hi, I am a student at Cascade High school and I am doing an Ag Issues for FFA on the current pine bettle issue.
    -What is your opinion on the pine beetle infestation?
    -What method do you think would be more successful; burning, logging, or chemical spraying?
    -How much does each method cost? What is the cheapest way?
    -What do you do for a living?
    -What would you like to see be done about the infestation?
    -How long has the infestation been going on?

  10. Ben Avatar

    I think the beetle infestation is part of the 100 year cycle lodgepole pine have. Drought has certainly effected the intensity. Because of the severity of the problem the pine beetles are also attacking ponderosa pine. There is no successful way to stop the outbreak. Burning is very expensive and can easily get out of hand. Chemical spraying is very expensive ranging from 10-15 dollars per tree depending on how many acres are treated. Logging is not a way to stop the outbreak but can minimize the risk of fire in populated areas or campgrounds. The timber industry is seeing some difficult times so I don’t see any reasons not to utilize this renewable resource. I am a logger as well as a forestry student at the University of Montana. I don’t think there is much we can do about the infestation other than try to protect small stands in campgrounds, parks and some private property. I’m pretty sure the infestation began in the late nineties, in Montana. It was a bit earlier in Canada.


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Ralph Maughan