The mountain pine beetle epidemic in the Black Hills has been compared to a slow-moving forest fire with devastating impacts. But more help is on the way thanks to what some might consider an unlikely source: the federal Farm Bill.
The U.S. Forest Service is part of the Department of Agriculture, so the Farm Bill is as essential to pine trees as it is to cows and cornfields.
Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien says the Farm Bill will mean more money and fewer regulations for management projects.
"There are several things under the Farm Bill provisions. One will be some areas that we can expedite thinning and reducing hazardous fuels in selected areas," Bobzien said.
A lot of that work has already been done to fight the spread of the pine beetle and reduce wildfire threats. But there's plenty more to do. And it costs money.
Last week, U.S. Forest Service officials at the national level granted a request by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to give priority status to much of the Black Hills in fighting a bug that has damaged more than 400,000 acres of the forest. The chairman of the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board celebrated that news but warned that the fight continues.
The bug kills trees just like a forest fire, only more slowly, he said
"The issue that is critical to us is that this is an ongoing fire. It is an ongoing devastation," Jim Scherrer, a Black Hills landowner who has fought the beetle for years, said.
Scherrer said federal officials are rewarding cooperation by South Dakota's congressional delegation, state and local governments, private landowners and other forest interests.
"If we were not to have this kind of cooperation, we would not be recipients of the benefits of this bill," Scherrer said.
Bobzien said the new federal money won't be available until the new federal budget year, beginning October 1. But knowing the money will be there allows him and other forest officials to continue long-range planning for projects to fight the pine beetles and reduce the risk of wildfires.