RAPID CITY, South Dakota — A recent aerial survey shows the 18-year battle to eradicate the mountain pine beetle from the Black Hills of western South Dakota is slowing the pest's progress, but officials say now is not the time to let up.
The survey conducted by the U.S. Forest Service, South Dakota's Agriculture Department and Wyoming's State Forestry Division measured trees that were infected by pine beetles that left trees in the fall of 2012 and spread to new timber last year. It indicated beetles infested just 34,000 new acres in 2013, compared to as many as 67,000 acres as recently as 2011, the Rapid City Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1m0rzU3 ).
Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien said there are encouraging infestation declines in some areas due to measures such as tree thinning, but "we need to stay vigilant with this epidemic."
Bobzien said 25,000 acres of forest will be thinned this year to help stop the beetles, which have devastated more than 40 million acres of forests in the West in the last 1 ½ decades.
Ben Wuetke, forest programs manager for the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, said he is optimistic about the survey report.
"These initial signs of growth of the population tapering are hopeful," Wuetke said. But "it's a lot like taking antibiotics. If you stop now, it can come back in spades."
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com