Beetle-kill accelerates business at Montana woodshop

MISSOULA, Mont. – Beetle-killed Ponderosa pine is in high-demand at Ryan Palma’s Sustainable Lumber Co. The company, which builds cabinets, doors, flooring, paneling and other wooden furniture, has found its niche capitalizing on a defect that makes the tree useless for lumber, but makes it desirable for a high-end living room table.

Palma says that because of its thick bark, Ponderosa pines hold moisture ten times longer than commercially harvested Lodgepole pine – allowing the fungus from the mountain pine beetle to flourish and create a wide array of colors.

That can take some time.

“Aged like a fine wine our timber stands dead in the forest for up to 5 years,” says Palma on the company’s website. “The longer it stands dead naturally in the wild the richer and more dramatic the color will be.”

After harvested by the company’s two loggers, the wood is sent to a local Mennonite community for hand-finishing. It’s then surfaced, dyed, and shaped into flooring and paneling.

True to its name, the company is largely sustainable – specializing in recycled, reclaimed, salvaged and certified wood sourced within a hundred-mile radius of its facility. Rejected wood is donated to non-profits like Habitat for Humanity, or its converted into clean biomass which generates renewable heat and energy for the shop’s kiln and office.

Demand for Palma’s products isn’t just local – 90 percent of inventory is shipped out of state.

“A lot of the lumber industry is a dinosaur, not willing to change,” Palma told the Missoulian, a local news publication in Missoula. “We’re doing things nobody in the lumber industry was doing.”


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Robert Dalheim

Robert Dalheim is an editor at the Woodworking Network. Along with publishing online news articles, he writes feature stories for the FDMC print publication. He can be reached at [email protected].