Trees in Sierra Nevada forests are dying in large numbers due to fires such as the Rim and Butte fires, drought and the ravages of bark beetles.
Some of those millions of trees are even now being cut down because the trees threaten homes, power lines or roads. The number of logs far outstrips the capacity of area mills. And in some cases, conventional mill owners don’t even want the material due to insect damage or the wood’s rapid decay after the trees die. Ultimately, most of it may be chipped or burned.
Yet some area artisans are finding ways to make use of that timber, including the so-called “blue stained” wood from trees that have been standing dead for a year or more.
Diane Winsby of Calaveras Lumber in Angels Camp said she has seen an increase in orders for blue stained wood that she believes it will increase as more people become aware of its uses. Right now, she said, Calaveras Lumber does not stock blue stained wood but the company will take special orders.
The mass of wood to be hauled away or destroyed has also given rise to a new business owned by Jesse Wallace in Arnold. His Millworkz is a wood milling operation.
Wallace said that 90 percent of the wood his company uses is from trees killed by bark beetles. “The demand is rising,” Wallace said of the colored wood.
Orders have been flowing in to Millworkz for everything from slabs for tables and benches to thinner cuts for flooring, siding and trim. Millworkz has multiple saws that can cut various widths and depths as well as lengths, creating most anything customers want.
One custom saw can cut slabs up to 63 inches wide. Wallace said bark beetle/blue stained table tops are in high demand.
“As marketing of this wood increases, so will demand,” he said. “Our production will also increase to meet that demand.”
Lynn and John Glockens, owners of Timeless Home Galleries in Arnold, have been recycling wood into art for years and have commissioned one-of-a-kind pieces in businesses and homes from Bear Valley to San Francisco. They also created works for area businesses such as tabletops for the new Dogwood Restaurant in Arnold and the bar top for Joma’s Ice Cream in Murphys.
Working with wood recovered from water towers, barns, old homes and more has been a passion for the Glockens. So when the bark beetle infestation occurred they knew they could create beauty from the ravaged trees.
In their Arnold showroom they have shelves, tables, chairs and even flooring all made from blue stained wood, felled and milled locally.
Charlie Anderson, owner of Anderson Christmas Tree Farm in Murphys, also works with bark beetle wood.
Anderson has been woodworking since the early 1970s.
“I started making burl table tops,” he said. Yet woodworking took a back burner to making a living as a firefighter and building homes.
“I enjoyed making furniture out of scrap and salvaged lumber, salvaged trees, and felled trees. But it was about nine years ago I cut into an old oak on my property and the grain was so beautiful I began actively working with wood again.”
Three years ago Anderson began working with bark beetle wood, creating tables, chairs, mini bars, and more. “I enjoy working with pine. It’s easy and the bark beetle trees produce really cool results. It used to be I had to scavenge for that wood, but now people are calling me asking if they can drop it off.”
Because of laws restricting the use of felled trees, Anderson said he works with permitted timber operators for his supply.
Glocken said a regional mill is rumored to have sent a large shipment of blue stained wood to China. “Who knows?” she said. “The art and furniture that local artists are creating now may be mass marketed from our own wood and sold back to us soon.”
Though tree removal recently has begun in earnest in Calaveras County it was already well underway in Tuolumne months ago. On any given day at the height of the removal of the bark beetle infested trees in Mi Wuk Village, five to seven cranes ranging from 190-feet to 292-feet tall removed trees. Those doing the work included American Crane and crews contracted to work on behalf of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the California Department of Transportation.
The massive cranes are used to hoist trained tree trimmers carrying 36-inch chain saws, climbing gear and climbing ropes known as life ropes to the tops of dead trees. Once on the tree, the trimmer makes his way down the tree approximately 20 feet, ties a rope around the tree hooks it to the crane hook and cuts the tree below the rope as the crane lifts the top of the trunk off and swings it to a designated area to strip and cut.
The work is labor intensive and slow moving as, according to American Crane representatives, each crew including a crane operator and a tree trimmer can only cut down up to five trees per day.
No one knows exactly how many trees have been felled in Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amador counties or how many have yet to be felled.