The mountain pine beetle epidemic is over for now, but that doesn’t mean forest officials are resting on their laurels.
The Black Hills Resilient Forest Strategy hopes to combine state, federal and private groups to help prevent another epidemic, as well as large scale wild fires.
Ponderosa pine is a pesky species and managing those trees for forest health can be a challenge.
The state wants to create a Black Hills forest that can handle changing conditions, while promoting long-term economic, social and ecologic sustainability in the region.
Greg Josten is the State Forester with the Department of Agriculture. For him that means partnering with the timber industry to thin out areas of the forest that may be susceptible to future beetle infestation.
“If we don’t start managing the forest now, in preparation for the next epidemic, then when the epidemic starts there’s going to be too much to do all at one. And the mountain pine beetle is going to do its thing. And its thing isn’t necessarily what people want to see, because it leaves a mess.”
He says thinning the forest and diversifying the landscape is important for forest health.
Some groups are looking at more than just preparing the forest for an infestation.
Corissa Busse is a conservation manager with the Nature Conservancy in the Western Dakotas. She says the Black Hills are one of the most intermingled public and private land forests in the nation.
She says that means so many homes are right in the middle of other forest resources.
“And when we have a fire come along, it’s very difficult for it to burn like it would have historically, because it’s going to immediately burn into a community. That’s, again, where that active forest management needs to take place," Busse says. "Because the systems that once happened more naturally are no longer in sync as they once were. And then we have our communities scattered throughout in kindof a shotgun array throughout the forest. So, how do we mitigate that, how do we work our way around it?”
These officials looking at forest resiliency are looking at not if, but when the next infestation or wildfire happens. They’re hoping to reduce the impact of those events.