Dallas Rasmussen lost every single Ponderosa pine on several acres at his place this last year. He bought his home in the woods, and now his woods are gone, at least for many years.
People I greatly respect are concerned that if we don’t do anything, the bark beetles will “multiply by another four to eight times over the next couple of years.” The truth is even if we do all we can, we won’t beat the beetles altogether, even though we have to try.
I spent the past weeks, months and years doing the same things many others are: cutting down the zombie trees, the living dead that will turn brown in summer and become red tops, aerial towers like aircraft carriers from which the beetles will launch at Rally time. I’ve also been marking the living trees to spray when the spray season comes at the end of April.
It’s time to start giving at least as much attention to the living forest as we are to the dead and dying. We can’t bring the dead trees back, but we can save many of the living by spraying them.
Dave Thom, the coordinator for the conservation leaders in the Black Hills Regional Mountain Pine Beetle Working Group, first formed by Black Hills Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien in 2011, recommends spraying as part of a greater strategy, and I’m glad. I’ve been spraying 23 trees in my own yard and working with my neighbors to spray 249 more in our neighborhood.
It costs about $13 per tree to spray. It costs $18 to $35 to cut the dead ones and chunk them. We have to spray every year, and we have for the past five years. We’ll have to spray another three or four years until the current attacks run their course. Dave thinks the beetles killed 3 million to 8 million trees last summer. Those are big numbers, low or high.
Let’s say 5 million are dead. The timber industry can process about 1.5 million trees annually, but only 30 percent of them can have blue stain. Big box stores won’t take the blue stain. Customers haven’t learned to appreciate the blue wood.
That means industry can take 450,000 blue trees, leaving 4.5 million blue trees to turn red this summer.
Custer State Park has over 40,000 newly dead trees. They hope to cut them all and remove them altogether, but the neighborhood is heavily infested so they will continue to take casualties.
Most of the park's trees are not cut and chunked and left on the forest floor. There are many problems with leaving big chunks of firewood everywhere. Wildfire is hard to fight in that kind of fuel. People don’t want to hike through acres of firewood.
Cutting and chunking is better than nothing and works to reduce beetles, but it is not the best option everywhere and will live with us long after this beetle attack is done.
John Ball says spraying is over 95 percent effective. South Dakota is considering adding money to the beetle fight in House Bill 1050. I hope lots of it goes to spraying living trees.