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Black Hills National Forest proposes spruce removal for wildfire management

The Black Elk Wilderness area of the Black Hills National Forest.
Seth Tupper
U.S. Forest Service
The Black Elk Wilderness area of the Black Hills National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service plans to remove some white spruce trees across a broad area of the Black Hills. By cutting down white spruce, officials hope to allow other tree species to grow.

The Spruce Vegetation Management Program considers over 20,000 acres for tree removal in the central and northern Black Hills.

Jerry Krueger is the deputy supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest. He said spruce stands are at high risk for wildfires.

Krueger said the goal of the project is to increase resiliency.

“We’re going to treat part of the white spruce on the landscape to create less opportunity for wildland fire to jump from one location to the next, or to continue through what would be a single stand of white spruce.”

Krueger said removing white spruce will encourage aspen growth.

Ben Wudtke is the executive director of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association. He supports the proposal.

"One component of the project is to remove the spruce that’s encroached into these stands that were historically aspen and pine stands, and they’ve grown unnaturally dense with the spruce," Wudtke said. "They’re going to go in and remove that spruce and kind of reset that stand to what it was naturally.”

Wudtke represents timber companies that would carry out the proposed project.

Some opponents say the project would destroy the ecosystem of spruce stands. Mary Zimmerman is vice president of the Norbeck Society, which is a conservation group in Rapid City. She said prescribed burns and removing small trees are better methods for preventing wildfires.

“We’re already at a pretty dire shortage of mature landscapes in our forest," Zimmerman said. "That’s where you really find ecological strength. It’s in diversification and complexity, and the forest has already suffered quite a bit of change.”

The public comment period for the proposal is open for the next several weeks.

Laura (she/her) is based at the Sioux Falls Studio. She is a journalism/anthropology student at Augustana University.
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