U.S. Forest Service officials said this month that the 20-year mountain pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills has officially ended, but that doesn’t mean their fight against the tree-killing insects is over. In fact, an effort to limit the damage from the next epidemic could begin soon.
The new effort is called the Black Hills Resilient Landscapes Project, and the project manager is Anne Davy of the U.S. Forest Service. She said the millions of tree deaths during the beetle epidemic knocked conditions in the Black Hills National Forest “out of whack.”
“When the infestation was so bad, we just needed to stop it,” Davy said. “We went out and dealt with that, and now we need to start moving things back in the right direction.”
If the project is approved, forest managers will spend the next decade working to make the forest more resilient to beetles and wildfires. The work will vary depending on local conditions, but it will include removing some dead trees, igniting controlled burns, thinning dense areas to act as breaks against wildfires, cutting encroaching pines out of aspen and oak stands and away from grassy meadows, culling some old or young pines to encourage a healthier mix of tree ages, and churning up some patches of soil to facilitate new tree growth. “We’re really investing in the long-term health and resiliency of the forest,” Davy said.
Gale Gire, the Resilient Landscapes Project silviculturist (one who protects a forest), said one of the goals is to develop an array of diverse patches of forest, each characterized by different tree ages and sizes and stand densities, to break up the tall and dense stands of pine trees that beetles thrive on.