The area surrounding Sheridan Lake has a new look — another sign of the ongoing efforts to combat the mountain pine beetle in the Black Hills.

As the invasive pest chews its way through the area, the U.S. Forest Service is following through on its plan to thin out 892 acres near the popular recreation spot about 15 miles west of Rapid City.

Brian King, a representative from the U.S. Forest Service, estimates the work is about 60 percent complete.

Depending on the weather, tree removals should be completed sometime in the fall, if not sooner, he said. Most of the work currently being done is north and south of the Sheridan Lake campgrounds along Sheridan Lake Road to tackle problems from the infestation.

“What we are doing around Sheridan forest is pretty much what we are doing all over the forest,” he said.

Sen. John Thune and U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem’s offices announced this week that $1.5 million will be added to the Black Hills National Forest’s 2014 budget. The Forest Service said the money will be used to remove additional bug-infested trees.

The beetles’ appetite for large trees is nothing new to the Black Hills. The current infestation dates to the late 1990s, according to Tom Troxel, executive director with the Intermountain Forest Association.

The Forest Service estimates 30,000 acres of trees are infested per year. King said the removals are part of routine forest management to alleviate infestation areas and reduce the risk of wildfires.

This is usually done with a minimal impact on recreational activities, according to Dave Mertz, a Forest Service natural resource staff officer. Cutting down the trees for timber sales is usually done with “very little restriction” on public access to the area, he said.

Contracts with timber companies are set up to be as unintrusive as possible, especially in the busy recreational season between May and Labor Day, King said.

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By thinning out parts of the Black Hills, the goal is to reach an equilibrium where areas of the forest are less susceptible to infestation by the beetles. Typically that means cutting down 50 to 60 infected trees per acre, depending on their diameter, according to Troxel.

A recent report by the South Dakota state forester alleged that loggers were cutting healthy trees along with the bug-infested ones.

Troxel acknowledged there had been some problems in the past differentiating infested trees from apparently healthy ones.

“There were some differences in the definition of what some trees were going to be cut,” he said.

Troxel believed this was due to inconsistent standards on the level of infestation for trees marked for removal, something he said has been corrected.

Contact Meredith Colias at 394-8417 or meredith.colias@rapidcityjournal.com.

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