Gov. Dennis Daugaard today announced a new initiative to battle the environmental and economic ravages caused by the mountain pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills.
The Black Hills Forest Initiative is designed to prevent the tiny insect pest from destroying the forest and its communities by increasing awareness of the problem; engaging homeowners and businesses; coordination of state, county and federal partners; and increasing those resources used to deal with the problem.
Over one-third of the Black Hills National Forest -- more than 400,000 acres -- has been infested by the beetle, and there's no sign that the outbreak will let up any time soon, the Governor said. "We can see the devastation all around us, and Black Hills residents have been feeling the effects for years," Gov. Daugaard said. "Hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees in the logging, forest products, and tourism industries depend on a healthy, well-managed forest for their livelihoods. The current mountain pine beetle infestation threatens those business owners as well as their employees and families. It also threatens to damage the very nature and character of these Black Hills."
About 80 percent of the Black Hills is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and the remainder is managed by private landowners and state government. Since the current pine beetle outbreak began, 95 percent of the attacks have occurred on Forest Service land.
State and private landowners have worked for a decade to control the spread of the beetles, and those efforts have paid off, the Governor said. While 95 percent of the trees in the federal Black Elk Wilderness Area have been killed, the adjacent Custer State Park remains largely unaffected because of state government efforts to actively thin the forest and cut down beetle-infested trees, he said.
More than $2 million has been put into those endeavors since 2002, Gov. Daugaard said. But he said state and private efforts can no longer keep up. Millions of acres of dead trees currently create the risk of catastrophic wildfires, he said.
"Unless bold, well-coordinated efforts are undertaken soon, the mountain pine beetle epidemic will cause irreparable losses to the Black Hills," the Governor said in announcing his initiative today at Hill City. "We will not wait for the fire to rage to mobilize our response."
The Black Hills Forest Initiative involves:
Spending an additional $1 million annually for the next three years to control the spread of pine beetles. Infested trees will be surveyed and marked, and the funds will be used as part of a cost-share program with private landowners.
Working with landowners, forestry, conservation groups, insurance companies and industry leaders to reinvigorate and expand the South Dakota Fire Safety Council. The Council will join with the South Dakota Wildland Fire Suppression Division to educate and provide information on the control of pine beetles.
Urging the U.S. Forest Service to immediately implement control measures, especially on federal land that borders state and private lands; And continuing to work with the Forest Service on an agreement to allow the use of mechanized equipment in the Black Elk Wilderness Area, in the event of a wildfire.
South Dakota Department of Agriculture collaboration with the Black Hills National Forest to more effectively compete for Forest Service grants.
Creating a new website to provide one-stop information on mountain pine beetles. The website already is operational: www.BeattheBeetles.com