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  • Close up view of a black spotted pine sawyer beetle (Monochamus Galloprovincialis).

    Bug-Damaged Wood Becomes Beautiful Furniture

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 Travel Collection® repurposes pine beetle kill wood, fashioning it into furniture, decorative walls, and trim work in buildings at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming,  Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and Glacier National Park in Montana.

A native species, the pine beetle has thrived recently because of drought, climate change, and forest fire suppression. “Shorter and warmer winters with fewer extremely cold days create conditions that allow the pine beetles to reproduce and spread,” says Kevin Crosby, Corporate Director of Sustainability at Xanterra Travel Collection®. That has caused more than 80 million acres of forest in 10 western states and two Canadian provinces to be impacted by the recent outbreak.

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.

“The diseased wood is hauntingly beautiful,” says Annette Tarantino,  Corporate Store Design and Visual Merchandise Coordinator at Xanterra Travel Collection®. “The forest devastation is tragic, but in architectural features and gift products, the result is 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.

During a 2017 remodel of Xanterra’s gift shop and Carvers’ Cafe in Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Xanterra Travel Collection® utilized pine beetle kill wood harvested and milled within 50 miles of the Memorial. Many of the new retail fixtures are also made from pine beetle kill wood from Montana.

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 creates 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 headboard in the guest room, cabinetry in a gift shop, or trellis in a restaurant are a partial result of climate change,” says Crosby.