Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Pine Beetle Problem

Some years ago, a strange thing started happening in the Black Hills: trees were starting to die in sporadic patches, rusting out but staying where they were. These patches started to grow ... and spread ... and on certain hills, it looked like a bit of an invasion.

For one reason or another, mountain pine beetles, native to just about any area with pines, had become active, much like Dutch elm disease occurs any place with elms when conditions are right. And as the Hills had gotten quite dense, they flourished. Pine beetles float more than they fly -- if trees are far enough apart, they die out. If they're closer together, it's easy for them to seek new hosts.

All of this has occurred over the last decade. While I was in college, it was hardly a topic. Now, it's a regular news item and there are signs explaining what's happening on the most-traveled trails.

It's not heavy everywhere. In some places, you only see a few trees rusting.

In others ... Well...

Trail #9 has changed drastically since I hiked it only six years ago...

...leaving us puny humans with the clean-up. All those dead trees do pose problems, greater fire risk probably at the top of that list.

Surprisingly, there are some unforeseen advantages.

Like the views opening up when before you were encased in trees.

Don't get me wrong -- this kind of sucks. But at this point, there are very few things we can do about it besides clean up the mess. While it has perhaps gotten a bit out of hand -- action even just five years ago could have made a huge difference -- now we can only deal with the cycle.

Besides, the forest doesn't really need our help. Long before we were here, the Hills did a fairly good job of taking care of themselves, and since we're quite adamant about not allowing fires (which I can't say I'm totally opposed to) they've found another way to clear out the brush, so to speak.

And perhaps more to the point, there's already regrowth. Baby pines are cropping up everywhere, quite without our help. They may not be the old growth we're used to, but in twenty or thirty years the Hills will likely be quite well recovered and arguably healthier for it. Which means that all of our kids could probably see it the way we remember it.

In the meantime, I can't say as I'll ever consider this area ugly even with the rust. Deciduous trees are thriving now that they don't compete as much with the evergreens. I suspect autumn will be fantastic.

Besides, with views like that, it's hard to go wrong.

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