Early battles against the pine beetle
Published: Thursday, November 29th, 2012
A hundred years ago the news about mountain pine beetles in the Black Hills was grim. The first published report of the beetles in the Hills came in 1895 when settlers told reporters "Pine needles are turning yellow and trees are dying in clumps in the northwestern part of the Black Hills forest near the Wyoming line." The clumps were big, meaning the infestation started several years before 1895.
In 1898, forester Henry Graves said practically all of the trees on many ridges across the northwestern corner of the forest were dead or dying. The condition was rapidly and steadily moving to the south, he said, estimating that 3,000 acres had already been bug-killed just where he was riding his horse in a general survey of the area.
Griffith, another expert on forest insects, examined 116,000 acres and found an estimated 226,896,000 board feet of "good pine timber" either already dead or infested and dying. The dead timber amounted to 1,956 board feet per acre. A modern logging truck holds about 5,000 board feet.
Later that same year, a group of the most trusted and knowledgeable experts in the country examined the Hills. Their leader was the nation's chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, and with him was the famous entomologist Andrew Delmar Hopkins for whom the "Black Hills pine beetle" was later named. Hopkins became a specialist in the bark beetle family Scolytidae, especially the genus Dendroctonus, species of which are the most destructive insects in coniferous forests of North America. The men concluded the epidemic was surely in its last phase and dwindling. If helicopters were available Pinchot and Hopkins would have seen a much different picture. The plague of rice-sized beetles was spreading rapidly in every direction.
By 1906, perhaps 15 years after the start of the epidemic, the epicenter of the attack had settled on Custer and the Southern Hills.
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