South Dakota's beetle battle escalates, forest treatment costs set to soar after infestation explodes in Custer State Park; U.S. Forest Service official calls situation 'extremely worrisome'

LOS ANGELES , December 2, 2011 () – South Dakota is looking at bigger efforts and higher costs than expected to fight an exploding mountain pine beetle infestation in Custer State Park, by removing 142,000 trees instead of the expected 15,000, following the U.S. Forest Service's latest annual survey, the Rapid City Journal reported Nov. 29.

Frank Carroll, spokesperson for the U.S. Forest Service, said survey work this fall shows more insect activity than last year and that could rise next year.

The state government had previously planned to spend about US$300,000 in 2012 to extract beetle-hit trees and thin forests ahead of beetle flights. Now more money will be required for the larger area, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is expected to mention Custer Park's problems next week in his budget speech to the legislature, along with an existing commitment for $3 million over three years to fight the beetle on private land.

Daugaard, along with park and state forestry experts are working up a plan to clean out the infected trees before they spread next summer. Carroll said thinned trees are stronger and more resistant to insects and fire, the Rapid City Journal reported.

The 71,000-acre Custer State Park is located in the Black Hills of South Dakota, near the 1.2 million acre Black Hills National Forest.

Beetles have damaged more than 405,000 acres of timberland in the Black Hills National Forest, where the pine beetle is thought to have hit 67,000 more acres during 2011. In 2009, beetle infestation rose by 22,000 acres; in 2010, by 44,000 acres in the Black Hills National Forest, the Rapid City Journal reported.

Carroll called the rate of increase “extremely worrisome.” Many areas of infestation in Custer State Park are difficult to access.

The primary source of this article is the Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, South Dakota, on Nov. 29, 2011.

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