South Dakota is nicknamed "The Land of Infinite Variety" thanks in part to its diverse landscape consisting of fertile farm ground, the Missouri River Basin, western grasslands, and of course the beautiful Black Hills. However, the beauty of the Black Hills is in jeopardy due to the alarming pine beetle infestation that has resulted in dead and dying pine trees across more than 400,000 acres of the Black Hills landscape since 1996.
Obtaining the necessary resources for the U.S. Forest Service to effectively battle pine beetles in the Black Hills National Forest has been and continues to be one of my highest priorities. However, what has been missing over the past several years due to environmental law restrictions is the authority for the Forest Service to effectively target control measures on problem pine beetle infestations when and where they are needed most.
Since my days in the House of Representatives, I have taken steps to assist the Forest Service in its battle against pine beetles, including introducing legislation earlier this year that would declare a state of emergency in areas such as the Black Hills National Forest and would allow the Secretary of Agriculture to immediately take action against pine beetle threats. I also successfully included language from my bill in the 2012 Farm Bill Forestry Title, which although not passed into law, has brought additional attention to the emergency nature of the pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills.
I was pleased to see that the Forest Service is paying attention to the urgent need for quick and decisive action in the Black Hills National Forest by finalizing a Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project this week which will cover portions of approximately 248,000 acres of high risk Black Hills National Forest land. The large number of acres included in the project will allow for more timely and effective control measures by the Forest Service over a much broader area than was previously allowed. I support the Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project and will continue fighting for adequate resources to help in this effort.
Fighting the pine beetle epidemic will continue to be one of my highest priorities in order to ensure we provide the Forest Service and our state with much needed reforms to more effectively preserve one of South Dakota's and our nation's greatest treasures.