Partners Team Up to Reduce Mountain Pine Beetle in the Northern Hills

Release Date: Feb 9, 2012  

Contact(s): Rhonda O’Byrne (605) 642-4622


Spearfish, SD - Northern Hills Ranger District recently signed a participating agreement with Lawrence County to reduce the mountain pine beetle (MPB) epidemic in the Northern Hills.

The participating agreement allows Lawrence County to hire crews and contractors to cut MPB infested trees on the Black Hills National Forest. The county works with the forest service to meet forest specifications and timber management protocols.

“Through tireless efforts of county commissioners, Dave Heck, our invasive species manager, and Rhonda O’Byrne in the Forest Service, people came together to set-up this historic agreement,” Terry Weisenberg, Lawrence County Commissioner, said. “We are extremely proud of the forest service and the job they have been able to do on this agreement with the county.”

Rhonda O’Byrne, Northern Hills District Ranger said “What’s really different about this project is many local governments, businesses, cities, individuals, and the forest service, are all coming together, trying to bring our resources together, to battle this together.” The Lawrence County agreement deals specifically with MPB and funding is being provided by counties, local organizations, governments, individuals, cities and several businesses.

O’Byrne said the public has become much more aware of the MPB epidemic in the Black Hills and people are concerned about what the impacts are going to be. “With that awareness, people have been more willing to come to the table and say, hey we want to be a part of doing something. We know you can’t do it on your own. What can we do to help you?”

Jerry Krambeck, Mayor of Spearfish, was one of the many supporters of the contract. Mayor Krambeck said he was contacted about the MPB situation by various people, including Bill Coburn from Forest Products. “He (Coburn) had been keeping me posted on how bad of a situation it was with the bark beetle in the Black Hills, not only in the Southern Black Hills, but the Northern Black Hills,” Mayor Krambeck said.

One popular landmark in the Northern Hills that was being affected is Spearfish Mountain. “Spearfish is called the “Queen City” and Spearfish Mountain is one of the jewels,” Mayor Krambeck said. He said they had to do something; that not doing anything was the wrong thing to do.

Also because of its proximity to the town of Spearfish, O’Byrne said it was critical to do something quickly on the mountain. “If we all of the sudden have this sea of dead trees, what is that going to do in terms of the health and safety of that community if we have a wildfire?” O’Byrne said.

The contract that was put together between Lawrence County and the forest service, along with money contributed by the city of Spearfish and others, made it possible for sawyers hired by the county, to begin a MPB treatment project on Spearfish Mountain.

Lawrence County Invasive Species Management, David Heck, said approximately fifty tree-cutters are currently spread out across Spearfish Mountain and are each, depending on the size and slope, averaging between 40-60 trees per day that are cut, chunked, scored, and spread. “When we started, we really didn’t have any idea, we were kind of hoping to cut, maybe 15 - 20 trees per guy,” Heck said. “We are hitting 500-600 trees per day and by tomorrow that mark might double with the additional cutters that are coming on.” Crews are aiming to cut 6,000 total trees on the mountain.

Heck said sales administrators mark GPS points for every tree that is cut and maps are updated daily to keep an accurate count on each unit. “I know exactly to the tree how much we are spending in each unit since all of these units we are working in are funded by donation,” Heck said. “We only have a certain amount of allotted money and so we have to know each day where we are going to be, so we don’t overcut or overspend.” A record sheet is also turned into the forest service for monitoring.

To date, there have been no injuries or accidents and everyone hired goes through a day of safety class before they start cutting Heck said. Crews practice evacuation procedures, learning who to contact in case of an emergency and the sale administrators carry first aid kits and walkie-talkies. Crews also radio into the Great Plains Dispatch Center outside of Rapid City, to let them know their arrival and departure.

Tim Troxel was hired by Lawrence County as a cutter. “It’s been a good opportunity and hopefully we are helping save trees and hopefully our hard-work will help slow down the bugs and maybe even stop them.”

Troxel said each tree is bucked into individual pieces or “cut and chunked” to freeze out the bugs and for aesthetics. “We also score trees (a slit that is cut into the top of each individual chunk) because it dries out the wood faster, so it decomposes.”

O’Byrne said she is really pleased with what she’s seen at the project site. “I’m just amazed at the number of trees that have already been treated out there.” It really gives me hope that this is going to be successful.”

Mayor Krambeck and Heck, Invasive Species Management, both said the project is going to take several years. “If a project like this is going to start, you have to have the conviction to see it through,” said Heck. For there to be significant and valuable results, several more years of cutting and funding are needed Krambeck and Heck explained.

“I think this is an unprecedented effort,” Mayor Krambeck said. “We have all been able to get around the table, sit down, talk it out and try to put funds together to make this happen. I’m very proud to be a part of that.”

O’Byrne said, “Being able to work with Lawrence County, the city of Spearfish, the Homeowners Association in Spearfish, the Spearfish Canyon Foundation, and many other businesses; I really think that’s what is going to help us get ahead of this, is working together.”

“I just want to say again thank you to the forest service, this is something that not only the state of SD is looking at, but this is something that nationally is being looked at. This will be a great contract for the rest of the country to follow to stop the spread of these bugs,” Terry Weisenberg, Lawrence County Commissioner said.