LAWRENCE COUNTY — Lawrence County has seen the greatest impact of pine beetle infestation over the past three years according to a study conducted by the Black Hills National Forest.
Officials announced this week the results of the annual aerial forest health survey for the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. The survey reveals that the mountain pine beetle has infested 416,000 acres in the forest since the first signs of the outbreak in 1996.
The aerial forest health survey is accomplished through the use of aerial photography. Neiman Timber Company has been instrumental in leading the process of identifying and digitally mapping the extent of the mountain pine beetle epidemic.
According to statistics gathered by Neiman, Lawrence County saw by far the largest increase over the last three years, an upturn of almost 300 percent. These numbers reflect acres that are completely dead. For example, acres that were infested in 2011 and turned brown in 2012 number around 10,000 to 11,000.
“In 2009, there were around 9,000 acres infested by the mountain pine beetle (in Lawrence County),” said Dave Thom, Black Hills Regional Mountain Pine Beetle Working Group coordinator. “In 2010 that number grew to 20,000 and by 2011, had grown to 31,000. So from 2009 to 2010, the number doubled. From 2010 to 2011 it only increased by a factor of 50 percent. So treatments are making a difference.”
The “infested” acres range from two trees per acre to 100 trees per acre. Any degree of infestation is reflected in the 416,000-acre number, Thom said.
He added that the number of infested acres is decreasing, due to two factors.
“It’s a combination of treatment acres and the fact that the beetles have eaten themselves out of habitat.”
Thom also pointed out that it is important to note that the numbers could very well have been higher, given the fact that increased treatment on various map locations has occurred.
“We’re seeing an increase of about 11,000 acres a year, but that number could be as much as 25 percent higher when you figure in treated acres that don’t show up on an aerial map,” Thom said.
While the mountain pine beetle epidemic continues, forest managers are focused on public and employee safety as well as keeping the green forest alive for the long term. Foresters continue to remove felled trees along roads and trails, thin densely populated stands of ponderosa pine, and sanitize where conditions critical to reduce the habitat necessary for the mountain pine beetle to spread.
In December, Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien signed his record of decision to implement the Mountain Pine Beetle Response project. The project is focused at the forest landscape scale — which takes into consideration all groups and departments involved — with adaptive design features to more swiftly address the expanding beetle population and reduce hazardous fuels across the forest.
“Implementing the mountain pine beetle project is our top priority for 2013,” Acting Forest Supervisor Dennis Jaeger said. “This proactive approach will allow managers the ability to quickly respond to the changing conditions on the forest,” said Jaeger.
Under the authority of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003, the plan includes treatments on portions of 248,000 acres of ponderosa pine stands at high risk for beetle infestation. The plan calls for landscape treatment in advance of the infestation, thinning approximately 122,000 acres and up to 50 miles of new road construction over the next five to seven years.
“It is critical that we manage our forest resources in a way that reduces the potential for severe large-scale wildfires and also reduces the mountain pine beetle infestation to preserve the land that we all enjoy, admire and use,” said Jaeger.
To help prevent the spread of the pine beetle and other bark beetle species, private landowners, forest products industry, County officials, conservation districts, and state and federal agencies developed a collaborative “all lands” strategy to combat the current beetle epidemic. A variety of methods have been used to treat hundreds of thousands of trees including forest thinning, cut and chunk, cut and burn, prescribed fire and chemical spraying.
Thom is encouraged from the support and response from all partners of the group. “The working group represents a comprehensive, all lands approach and through collaboration we are working together to make the most effective use of funding and treatment methods to slow the progression of the MPB in the Hills.”
Thom also credits federal and state legislators, to include governors from both South Dakota and Wyoming for their support in providing funds for the effort. “There is a tremendous spirit of cooperation behind the work being accomplished,” Thom said. “The spread of the mountain pine beetle can be effectively reduced when you treat large blocks of land and you can only do this by working together across boundaries.”
The complete survey results for the Rocky Mountain Region, including Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming is available at http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/r2/forest-grasslandhealth .