Unique festival in Custer to bring awareness to mountain pine beetle issue

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The mountain pine beetle has wreaked havoc in the Black Hills for years. One special festival in Custer each year raises awareness of the epidemic. Black Hills FOX Reporter Jon Wilson takes you there for a look at this year's beetle that will go up in smoke.

The Burning Beetle and Bug Crawl Variety Show is now less than ten days away, and this year's beetle is coming together one staple at a time.

Burning Beetle Project Coordinator Hank Fridell says, "We have a committee of about thirty people, and of that, as with most committees, you end up with a dozen people that really make it come together. We meet about once a month throughout the year and try to put it together, and here lately, we've been doing it a little bit more often."

The mountain pine beetle has killed thousands of trees throughout the forest since it's peak roughly five years ago, but significant progress has been and is continuing to be made.

Coordinator of the Mountain Pine Beetle Working Group Dave Thom says, "We're excited and enthused by the downward trend that's been happening in the last year, particularly. Across the Black Hills, we're in really good shape. However, there still remains hot spots of new infestations and new outbreaks, particularly in the Custer area that have to be treated."

Thom says, "We talk about the epidemic in the Black Hills, but it's really a combination of smaller epidemics that have occurred in isolated areas."

This year's festival is a celebration of what has been done, and look forward to continue the fight against the trees that give this region its name, the Black Hills. All the wood used in the construction of the beetle is not your everyday wood you could pick up at a hardwood store.

Fridell says, "Not only does the wood come from the Black Hills, but much of it is blue stained wood, which is wood from trees that have been killed by the beetles. It's going up in smoke."

The festival is on Saturday, January 21st, and the beetle burning will be at Pageant Hill that evening.