Officials work to restore the McVey burn area

Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 5:44 PM MST
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - The ponderosa pine is the dominate tree in the Black Hills and now the forest service wants to clear some out.

It all started in 1939 when the McVey Forest Fire left a 22,000 acre burn scar on the land.

Thousands of ponderosa trees were planted as a solution, but with just one problem.

“These trees here, come to find out later, they are off site genetics,” explained Scott Albrecht, Timber Staff Officer for the Mystic Range District of the Black Hills.

This means the planted trees weren’t native to the Black Hills.

“Their stunted growth and they don’t lose their limbs normally like normal ponderosa pines do here in the Black Hills,” said Albrecht.

Pines native to the Black Hills grow fairly tall and shed their branches further down the trunk.

“Some of the off site genetics that we see in these trees, they tend to have a lot more cancer in the bowl or in the trunk of the tree and they have a lot more gall rust on the branches,” said Albrecht.

So, the branches don’t fall of and the dead limbs are retained throughout the life of the tree.

Mix those low hanging branches with the fuel already laid down from the pine beetle epidemic, there’s high potential for a forest fire.

“Those limbs capture moss and lichen which as the fire goes through, it acts like a ladder for the fire to climb to the canopy and I think we all know that high severity fires, crown fires, not a good thing,” said Matt Daigle, Fuel Specialist for the Mystic Range District of the Black Hills.

So, over the next several years, 3 to 4 projects totaling close to 10,000 acres will stack branches already on the forest floor into piles for burning later on.

Then the trees planted after the McVey fire will be cut down and native ponderosas will be planted in their place.

This is all part of a bigger project to keep the Black Hills National Forest safe.

“Fire is going to happen. It’s not good, it’s not bad, but we can do what we can to mitigate those negative effects of it,” said Daigle.

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