Custer community prepares for annual wooden beetle torching to fight against beetle infestation in the Black Hills National Forest

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN TV) - Every year, the Custer community comes together to build a 20 foot wooden replica of the Mountain Pine beetle to torch in the new year.

For 20 years, Mountain Pine Beetles destroyed 450,000 acres of trees in the Black Hills National Forest. These native beetles cut off the tree's food source by feeding on their natural sugar and water. The beetles then develop a deadly spreadable fungus called Blue Stain which kills trees when they are in clumps. The Black Hills National Forest uses forest thinning to help prevent wildfires and from beetles settling into a new home in the trees. A healthy forest is important for the environment and for the residents.

"Well we have people who live in the forest a lot of people in this room and over the course of time we are going to get more people who live in the beautiful Black Hills. And everybody likes to see green trees. Rather see green trees than brown or black ones," says Forest Silviculturist Blaine Cook.

The beetle epidemic hit the town of Custer hard. A committee known as The Bark Beetle Blues wanted the community to release their frustration through art -- so they came up with the idea for the festival.

"People were not happy about the beetles and people were mad at the forest service. People were mad about losing the forest and so it became clear that the community needed to deal with their feelings as well as the facts," says Bark Beetle Blues Committee Member Lindy Manlove.

The beetle epidemic is officially over for now. Only about 200 trees are currently affected due to years of forest thinning. But a bigger threat could one day start again.

The Burning Beetle event will be in Custer on January 19th.