Crews thin forest to slow mountain pine beetle infestation

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Black Hills National Forest, SD The mountain pine beetle infestation claimed more than 16 thousand acres of the Black Hills last year.

But new reports from 2015 show the epidemic is slowing.

Gregory Josten with the South Dakota Department of Agriculture said, "The expansion of the beetle epidemic is definitely slowed down, and we're hoping that trend is going to continue."

And crews are out in full force - continuing that progress.

Big rigs were busy, Friday - thinning out the forest.

Kurt Allen with the U.S. Forest Service said, "When the forest is more spaced out and more thinned out - it's just a poorer habitat for the beetles and they generally won't go there."

Mountain pine beetles have affected nearly 450 thousand acres of land in the Black Hills since the outbreak began in 1996.

Officials say they've spent millions of dollars to treat more than 200 thousand acres in just the past few years, but there's still work to be done.

Jerry Kreuger with the U.S. Forest Service said, "I want to stress that we're not calling the epidemic over. We still have work to do, and we're keeping our eye on the ball."

Officials also rely on the help of private landowners to combat the problem.

You can spot an attack by what's called 'pitch tubes', or small piercings in the trunk of a tree. They can usually be found by mid October.

Ben Wudtke with the Black Hills Forest Resource Association said, "That's the beauty of forestry is they're all different ages, different sizes, and different stages of life. It will be time for some to come down this year, and maybe 25 years from now it will be time for others."

The timber cut today will be sold off to local mills.

The industry creates 1500 jobs and $100 million dollars for local communities.

Wudtke said "By doing a timber sale just like the one behind us, we're thinning out the forest. We're increasing the health and vigor of those trees and reducing the susceptibility to mountain pine beetles and catastrophic wildfires."

This is just one way to treat the hundreds of thousands of trees.

They also use prescribed burns and chemical spraying.