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Custer State Park Ramps Up Pine Beetle Fight

January 22, 2012, 9:50 PM by Derek Olson

Custer State Park Ramps Up Pine Beetle Fight
CUSTER, SD - It's not a good year to be a pine beetle in Custer State Park.

"This is the first year that we are really looking at comprehensive beetle treatment spanning the entire park," Senior Forester Adam Gahagan said.

Since the November survey was released that put the number of infested trees at 10 times higher than originally thought, the park has gotten the resources needed to battle the bugs.

"We knew that infested trees were out there, but to actually go out, identify those and get everything in place logistically to get out and address those problem trees has been a big, huge effort that has involved a lot of people," Resource Manager Gary Brundige said.

"Right now, we're estimating that there are 142,000 infested trees across the entire park and the governor and Pierre have stepped up to deliver us the funding to treat every single one of those trees across the entire park," Gahagan said.

Before the study, the park had a budget of around $300,000 to deal with the infestation. Now, they are working with more than $2 million in funding.

"Our budget is over three years, but yes, we are definitely expecting a multi-year effort," Gahagan said.

Right now, the goal is to salvage all of the infested pines in the accessible areas of the park by June 1. The deadline for "chunking" the trees in more remote areas is even sooner: March 1.

"There's a window there where there is active beetle flight, where we don't want to be removing or hauling beetle infested wood outside of the park," Gahagan said.

Even though officials expect the work to be ongoing for years to come, they hope that this effort helps to keep more of these hills black.

"Based on some of the work that was done before on a more limited scale, we'll have an impact on the beetles. It remains to be seen how profound that impact is," Brundige said.

Right now, there are nine private contractors, four crews from Wildland Fire Suppression and one group of prison inmates working to remove infested trees from the park.

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