The latest aerial survey of the Black Hills shows the little bugs with big appetites are still gnawing their way through the forest.
But they aren't chewing up as much ground as they were a few years ago.
"We still have an epidemic, but our encouraging news is those declines relative to the past," Craig Bobzien, Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest said. "We still are growing, but that rate of spread is declining."
Forest specialists are studying aerial photography from last fall. It shows the bugs hit 14,000 acres of additional forest in 2013, less than half the rate of a few years ago. The expansion rate was down in 2012 as well.
Meanwhile out in the forest, the battle against the mountain pine beetle continues.
Timber crews are busy throughout the forest working on projects with value both at the saw mill and in the multi-agency effort to stop the bugs. But some Black Hills residents fear the response came too late.
"We could have protected the view shed a little bit more, I think, and could have done it sooner," John Culberson of Custer said. "I don't know why we didn't."
Bobzien says forest-thinning work over the last decade has involved up to 25,000 acres a year, in addition to other beetle-control work that has intensified as the epidemic worsened.
The aerial surveys help pinpoint work to fight the bug that might be slowing down, but hasn't given up.