Park fights beetles with fire, not saws

American Elk prescribed fire, Wind Cave National Park
American Elk prescribed fire, Wind Cave National Park. October 20, 2010. Photo by Bill Gabbert

The Rapid City Journal has an article about how Wind Cave National Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota uses prescribed fire, in part, to help prevent and control pine beetles. Below is an excerpt. It may be one of the last excerpts we can show from that newspaper, since they plan to put up a pay wall on their internet site.

Wind Cave wages war on beetles without using saws

They don’t use logging machines and chain saws in the battle against the mountain pine beetle in Wind Cave National Park.

They use fire. And sometimes, they don’t use anything at all.

The federal park, which covers almost 34,000 acres in the southern Black Hills, has a management plan for the pesky bugs that is dramatically different from the logging-based attack in the Black Hills National Forest and nearby private and state forest.

It’s a plan that has been evolving since the 1970s, with fire as the main management tool — depending on funding and favorable weather conditions.

“We really don’t do any cutting of trees right now,” said Greg Schroeder, the park’s chief of resource management. “We have in the plan the ability to do some thinning if we can’t get areas burned. But if we get them burned, we’ll pretty much mitigate the pine beetle problem.”

That’s easier to say and do in Wind Cave, which has more than twice the acreage of grass as it does of forest. The park also is at a generally lower elevation, where pine beetles haven’t in the past been as big of a problem in the Black Hills.

Those advantages, along with a decades-old management plan based on healthy forest standards of thinner tree stands, more variety in tree age and species, and periodic prescribed burns have created a forest that is more resistant to beetles, Schroeder said.

The Journal also has an article about their law enforcement rangers catching three people from Minnesota last weekend attempting to steal about three dozen elk antlers, as well as animal skulls and rocks.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.