August 6th, 2012
Rapid City, SD
We first reported on pine beetle in South Dakota when Mount Rushmore unveiled its mitigation plans in 2010. Since then three successive July 4th fireworks displays at Rushmore have been cancelled and over 100,000 acres have been attacked by the pine beetle.
An unprecedented level of cooperation between county, state and federal stakeholders has allowed aggressive Black Hills beetle mitigation efforts to deploy. Still, leaders are modest in the goals of the campaigns knowing the beetle can be controlled but not really stopped.
The Black Hills, named for the dark and dense deciduous and pine forests that darken the hillsides, now features valleys of red ponderosa and lodgepole pines. This is leaving forest and business officials worried about short term prospects for tourism and fire danger.
Primarily a summer destination, the Hills and cities like Rapid City risk losing the defining attraction of the area. Unlike BC and Colorado which attract skiing and winter tourism, Rapid City is dependent on summer visitors to fill city coffers and frequent local restaurants and attractions. And those visitors are coming for the trees!
The threat to the Black Hills has inspired a high level of cooperation compared to other areas faced with the beetle epidemic. Even as the mountain pine beetle starts to appear
in the backyards of Rapid City, citizens seems to be in less denial then other municipalities about the real impact.
To date, 400,000 of the 1.2 million acres in the Black Hills have been infected. Beetle activity has been so vigorous since 2010, residents and city leaders have been shocked into action.
In 2012, the beetle flight started July 15th, 2012 according to forest officials in the Black Hills. Fire hazard caused the Rushmore July 4th fireworks display to be cancelled for the third year in a row.
These high profile stories have made it easier for the public to get on board with aggressive spraying and removal programs. Another factor is that tourism is the core industry for the area including the 65,000 residents of Rapid City.
Colorado has struggled with wildfires and British Columbia a loss of seven billion in timber sales. However, those states are anchored by large cities and diverse economies in both summer and winter.
Rapid City does not have that luxury.
The state of South Dakota has chipped in with sales tax relief for chipping and trucking green infested trees and is considering a similar suspension of sales taxes on tree spraying to promote control operations by private land and tree owners.
The state will also inspect for free 10 acre or larger parcels for evidence of beetle. However applicants have complained of a backlog for this service.
The 2012 attack is expected to be virulent with the double whammy of a drought making trees more susceptible for attacks and the drought increasing number of the engraver beetle, another predator of pines.
Plus they are very visible! In my trip there in late July, it is clear that the beetle is everywhere. citizens of the Black Hills are seeing it as a backyard problem, as the beetle populations migrate from the outer wilderness into the city limits.
As I drove, whole valleys had gone from black to red! Mountain pine beetle block the vascular tissue of mainly ponderosa and lodgepole pines. This constricts nutrients moving through the tree choking out chlorophyll causing the tree to turn red.
By the third year, the pine appears like a ghost, gray, devoid of color and dead.
Aggressive Mitigation Efforts in the Black Hills
Over 120,000 trees have been sprayed with carbaryl or permethrine in 2012 to prevent new infestations.
Lawrence County which borders Rapid City to the north, marked and treated more than 42,000 green-infested trees for mountain pine beetles in just three months this past winter. By removing green trees, forest officials have seen positive results in stemming the spread.
The effort that Lawrence County has made is just amazing, said John Ball, forest health specialist. In just three months this past winter.The tiny county marked and treated more than 42,000 green-infested trees for mountain pine beetles.
Cutting and chunking operations operate to dispose of beetle infested trees without spreading the disease elsewhere.
The drought is making it harder to ID though. “Bubblegum pitch is a telltale sign. Trees are not producing as much pitch this year because of the dry conditions,” Ball said. “This makes the damage harder to detect.”
Engraver beetles also are beneficiaries of the drought. There populations have increased substantially as well.
The area has fostered unprecedented cooperation. Let’s hope the efforts pay off before the Black Hills go fully red.