As pine beetles continue to ravage the West and the construction market continues to stall, entrepreneurs and environmentalists struggle to give new life to dead wood.

The sky was the limit in 2007. Home prices were skyrocketing. Little more than a signature harvested big loans. Everyone was spending. And on nearly 3 million acres of the Rocky Mountains, a treasure trove of virtually free “red and dead” trees inspired savvy entrepreneurs, who saw golden opportunity in the red-hued hills swollen with pine bark beetle-ravaged lodgepole pines.

For mountain-town dreamers, it was a heyday. They ordered expensive lumber-milling machines and hired lumberjacks, eagerly conjuring up money-making ideas born from the bounty in their backyards. Where the masses bemoaned the red death painting the mountainsides, the entrepreneurs saw full communities of affordable log homes, countless living rooms outfitted with gray-blue tinted woodwork, and houses heated with cheap, efficient wood pellets.

Then the sky fell. The collapse of the housing market burst the Big Beetle Kill Blitz that should have mirrored the Great Gold Rush that pioneered the West. Instead, sweeping swaths of dead trees across 4 million acres in Colorado and southern Wyoming are now dotted with at least 170,000 slash and unmerchantable piles of material. The region’s few large lumber mills battle through foreclosure to process the occasional truckload of beetle-kill timber. Policymakers proffer plans and promises, while a hardy few entrepreneurs attempt to weather the decline.

From Cowboys & Indians Magazine: