Mountain Pine Beetle
Mountain Pine Beetle Briefing Papers
Aerial Pine Beetle Photos
Bugtown Healthy Forest Restoration Project Photos
VIDEO: Mountain Pine Beetle 2007 Aerial Flight
The mountain pine beetle epidemic is spreading in the Black Hills, even as foresters work to address the situation.
The first major outbreak occurred in 1997 in the Northern Hills by Sturgis, but the pine beetles did not stop there. They moved to the central hills and consumed a large portion in the Black Elk Wilderness, Harney Peak, and surrounding areas. As of 2006 about 30% of this area was affected. Forest Service scientists estimate that 50% of the wilderness area is infected. Kurt Allen, a Forest Service entomologist at Rapid City, said if this outbreak continues there is a chance of 100% mortality rate around Harney Peak.
“The biggest defense for saving trees is thinning out stands by logging, fuel reduction, or just thinning the trees,” Allen said. The beetles tend to go after denser stands. Fewer trees in an area will make it less likely to have big beetle outbreaks, he said.
The Forest Service has already conducted a number of large projects to try and combat the beetle by thinning and harvesting. But there is a challenge in the Black Elk Wilderness. The use of power tools such as chain saws is not allowed in this area. Since it is a wilderness area there will be no human intervention and nature will take its course. Allen said in time bug kill areas will grow and change the look of the area, there will be fewer mature trees and more open areas under the trees.
Allen said the beetles do play a positive role. Woodpeckers and other wildlife feed off of the insects in the dying and dead trees. The dead trees also help in the recycling of the forest. "We are at the point in the Black Hills where whole hillsides are dying and that is not the effect we want. The scale of dead stands has grown to be too big,” he said.
Allen said that the pine beetle epidemic is going to be an ongoing problem and there is no fast solution. “The beetles keep us from meeting management objectives of the forest because things are dying too fast,” said Allen. He said the Forest Service will continue thinning and harvesting to control the insect populations.
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