An economic assessment of mountain pine beetle timber salvage in the west
The mountain pine beetle has killed lodgepole pine and other species of pines in the western United States in an ongoing epidemic. The most heavily affected states are in the interior West: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with smaller losses elsewhere. Timber salvage is one response to the epidemic, which could generate revenues for affected landowners and provide wood to forest product manufacturers and, potentially, energy producers. Salvage is occurring, but policymakers have advocated greater rates of such timber removals. To estimate total costs and revenues from salvage and thereby illuminate the economic dimensions of greater salvage removals, we simulated alternative salvage intensity levels on national forests and on other public and private lands where dead standing timber could be potentially recovered and entered into product markets. Data indicate that 19.7 billion cubic feet of standing dead timber are potentially available for salvage, distributed across 20.3 million acres in 12 western states. Simulations on national forests and on lands under other ownerships indicate that positive net revenues (revenues minus costs) could be produced in states with active timber markets on the West Coast and in the northern Rockies, where timber prices would be less depressed by the introduction of large salvage volumes. The central Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, which have the largest percentage volume and acreage impacts from salvable standing dead timber, would not generate profitable timber salvage. Simulations of a hypothetical doubling of demand in Colorado and Montana leave Colorado with smaller losses and Montana with larger gains.