The Beetles: A story of guitars, forest management, and climate change

Authors: Jared Beeton*, Fort Lewis College
Topics: Environment, Natural Resources, Sustainability Science
Keywords: Colorado, deforestation, forestry, beetle, guitar, tonewood, climate change
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 3:55 PM / 5:35 PM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The Rocky Mountains of North America have experienced a beetle epidemic that has impacted 1.6 million acres of spruce forest in Colorado. The beetle proliferation is likely related to two anthropogenic causes: Fire suppression has allowed downed wood to condense on the forest floor creating a perfect home for beetles, and climate change has increased fall and spring temperatures, enhancing the beetleā€™s ability to survive and reproduce. Spruce woods are desired for their tonal quality on sound boards (tops) of guitars, and forest managers are promoting the removal of many beetle-killed spruce trees. Since we need to harvest these trees, two important questions arise: Does beetle-infested wood make good-sounding, attractive guitars? Can the wood of beetle-killed Engelmann spruce in the Southern Rocky Mountains ease harvest pressure on old-growth Sitka spruce in the Tongass National Forest of southeast Alaska? Most reports suggest the resonance and sound are sublime, although the characteristic bluish green color fades quickly in sunlight. This ongoing research examines the tenuous relationship of spruce beetles to climate change, the management of North American spruce forests for tonewoods, and the experiences of luthiers working with beetle-kill wood. Transects of diameter breast height and species were conducted in beetle-infested Engelmann spruce forest near Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado and overlain with high-resolution satellite imagery in GIS. Interviews were conducted with luthiers, manufacturers, distributors, forest managers, and musicians. Future research will focus on soil erosion, sediment transportation, and effects on river systems in harvested and beetle-kill forests.

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