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Pine beetle

The size of a mountain pine beetle is shown in comparison to a nickel.

CASPER, Wyo. — The U.S. Forest Service proposes thinning portions of the Black Hills National Forest, including 32,300 acres in Wyoming, to stop the mountain pine beetle from killing trees.

“From where the beetles are today, they are more heavily concentrated in South Dakota, but the concentration is building near the state line,” Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien said. “Part of our strategy is thinning the forest on the leading edge. And that is in Wyoming.”

The Forest Service made the draft environmental impact statement available to the public Thursday. The agency wants the public to review the draft statement to understand what’s happening when they see people building roads in areas of dense forest and cutting down trees. If you favor another plan to control the beetles, the agency wants your comments.

The mountain pine beetle is an insect native to the 1.2 million-acre Black Hills National Forest. But an outbreak in the past 15 years is killing more trees than usual in the Black Hills and across the West.

Some researchers believe global climate change is contributing to the latest mountain pine beetle infestation.

In the Black Hills, “we know that if you have a dense forest, a large diameter of ponderosa pine trees, the beetles stake those out,” Bobzien said. In recent years, the Black Hills have become denser with trees. The beetles like areas that are cool and not too windy. If the forest is thinned, sunlight and wind will come in, he said.

Mountain pine beetle larvae kill the trees. The dead trees were once believed to have contributed to the rising number of forest fires across the West, although new scientific research casts doubt on that connection.

The draft environmental impact statement considers three options. It prefers Option C, which focuses more on monitoring and diversifying vegetation and less on pesticides. It calls for cutting up to 124,000 acres of the forest and using “integrated pest management” techniques on up to 248,000 acres.

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In Wyoming, not all 32,300 acres in the Bear Lodge Mountains would necessarily be cut. Foresters will decide which areas to thin once they study the acreage.

The Forest Service would pay for the efforts with ongoing funds it uses to control the beetle, Bobzien said.

This year, the Black Hills National Forest worked with private landowners, county weed and pest departments, resource conservation districts and states to control the beetles through burning, spraying and thinning, according to Forest Service literature.

Comments are due in a month. To read the draft environmental impact statement, visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/blackhills/landmanagement/projects.

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