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

RAPID CITY, S.D. — After spending a year and a half in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina tore through the area, Darcie Henegar realized it often takes a crisis to spur action.

On a recent walk through the Black Hills, she learned of the mountain pine beetle's devastation and the alarm it has raised.

"Involvement is about looking for something that breaks your heart," said Henegar, of Newcastle, Wyo. "The pine beetle issue broke my heart."

The beetles have killed more than 3.5 million acres of pines in the Rocky Mountain region. Last year, the U.S. Forest Service approved $40 million for the outbreak in Colorado, Wyoming and the Black Hills in western South Dakota. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is asking the Forest Service to devote $49 million more.

Henegar hopes to add to the state and federal call-to-arms a private coalition of citizens concerned about the infestation. After circulating a resolution around Wyoming and South Dakota, Henegar collected more than 600 signatures from people who share her views on the pine beetle.

The "Save our Black Hills" Coalition will have its organizational meeting Saturday at the Crazy Horse Welcome Center near Rapid City.

The meeting comes on the heels of news that the Pennington County Commission has unanimously declared the infestation a public nuisance, joining Meade, Lawrence and Custer counties in that declaration.

"The pine beetle knows no boundaries. They don't care where the tree is," Henegar said. "The landowner and state and federal authorities are opening up their boundaries and showing where they are and what is at stake."

Saturday's meeting will have speakers from the Forest Service, the timber industry, private landowners and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

"I think trust is a critical issue as far as landowners becoming educated to their responsibility," Henegar said. "Many landowners can't successfully identify an infected tree. We hope to get the other groups opening up their technical expertise and as funding becomes available become stewards in the financial partnership by offering shared cost expenditures."

Henegar said she hopes the coalition will identify core issues facing private property owners, put them on a priority list and assign leadership to draft an action plan.

"It's a big-picture issue with lots of little-puzzle pieces," she said. "You need to see the whole picture together and see how important it is to get all the pieces falling together."