A plague of tiny mountain pine beetles, each no bigger than a grain of rice, has already destroyed 15 years of log supplies in British Columbia, enough trees to build 9 million single-family homes, and is chewing through forests in Alberta and the Pacific Northwest. Now, an outbreak of spruce beetles is threatening to devour even more trees in North America just as similar pests are decimating supplies in parts of Europe, creating a glut of dead and dying logs.
The bugs are thriving as climate change warms winters that would normally keep them at bay, destroying a swath of the world’s timber supplies. That may eventually spur shortages for the global housing market. Right now, lumber prices are soaring to record highs thanks to a surge in pent-up repair, renovation and housing demand sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
All told, the beetles felled 730 million cubic meters of pine between 2000 and 2015 in British Columbia, Canada’s largest exporter of timber to the U.S. housing market. That has erased more than a decade of lumber supplies and will reduce the allowable production in the B.C. Interior by a staggering 40 percent, said David Elstone, owner of Vancouver-based Spar Tree Group. Provincial modeling indicates about 55 percent of B.C.’s marketable pine trees will be dead by the end of 2020.