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When ‘Bad’ Bugs Make Good Furniture

February 13th, 2017

Trees killed by the mountain pine beetle find new life in the national parks

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, WY – February xx, 2017 – An insect smaller than a thumbtack is killing nearly every single pine tree in millions of acres of forest across western North America. and in Yellowstone National Park. The culprit? The mountain pine beetle.

But now those dead trees are finding new life in furnishings and building materials in the U.S. national parks. As part of its sustainability program, Xanterra Parks and Resorts — the nation’s largest concessionaire of national and state park lodges — repurposes pine beetle kill wood, fashioning it into furniture, decorative walls and trim work in buildings at Yellowstone National Park, WY, and Glacier National Park, MT. In 2017 Xanterra plans to expand the program to Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo., and Mount Rushmore, S.D.

A native species, the pine beetle thrives because of climate change. “Shorter and warmer winters with fewer long stretches of below-freezing temperatures create conditions that are ripe for the pine beetle to grow,” says Matthew Folz, director of sustainability for Glacier National Park Lodges, which is managed by Xanterra. That has caused more than 60 million acres of forest in 10 western states and two Canadian provinces to suffer die-offs since the 1990s.

Interestingly, the insect’s lethal effect results in dead trees with lovely lumber. “The pine beetle carries a fungus that leaves a bluish marbled effect in the wood,” says Dylan Hoffman, director of sustainability for Yellowstone National Park Lodges, also managed by Xanterra.

“The diseased wood is hauntingly beautiful,” says Catherine Greener, vice president of sustainability for Xanterra Parks and Resorts. “It’s a devastation of the forest but in architectural features, it’s stunning.”

At Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park, Xanterra turned more than 1,000 linear board feet of the striking wood into headboards, end tables, desks and in-room recycling containers as part of a lodge refurbishment completed in spring 2016.

In Yellowstone National Park, Xanterra used pine beetle kill wood as wainscoting and backboards for wall hooks in five LEED-certified Canyon Lodges constructed between 2013 through 2016 as well as covered columns, staircase and lobby accent walls at Paintbrush, the employee dormitory.

Not harvested from the national parks themselves, the pine beetle kill wood employed by Xanterra meets LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) requirements of being sourced locally, defined as within a 500-mile radius of the park. Much of the recently used wood came from Montana and Idaho.

In addition to fostering sustainability, showcasing the kill wood has an educational component. While the wood does have its appealing side, it is the result of disease and damage to forests. Its use does create opportunities to raise awareness about the reality and negative impacts of climate change. “Using this wood gives us an opportunity to communicate to guests that the accent wall or headboard in the guest room is a result of climate change,” says Greener.

For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.

Editor’s note: Images and interviews available upon request.
Sally Spaulding, sspaulding@percepture.com, 970.986.9063