The Black Hills Resilient Landscapes project was approved Monday by Mark Van Every, Black Hills National Forest supervisor, reports the Rapid City Journal. The project’s intention is to fortify the forest against natural threats, such as mountain pine beetle epidemics and wildfires.
Van Every said in a written statement that he hopes the project will allow management to bring the forest back in line with management goals. This proposed project has been under consideration since 2016, with some alterations based on public input. The project has four main components; reducing vegetative fuel for wildfires, diversifying pine-tree stands in age, size, shape, and density, encouraging non-pine species growth and reducing tree encroachment on grasslands, and improving forest roads. These will be enacted throughout the forest, on about 620 of the total 1,900 square miles of national forest in the Black Hills. Full effects on some goals could take up to 40 years to be seen.
To meet these goals, the Forest Service will prescribe a variety of work, including logging, trimming, and controlled burns. Funding will be allotted as possible from the annual National Forest budget, rather than allocated from a separate funding source specifically for the project.
However, objections have been raised by some who assert that this project could result in over-logging. The Norbeck Society, a local nonprofit focused on conservation, believes that though the project originally had good intentions, it will result in “unnecessary and even harmful harvesting of big trees” from areas that are under no threat from insect or fire damage. Their press release went on to say that the amount of logging allowed under the project terms is unsustainable, and that the forest needs times to recover from the recent mountain pine beetle epidemic before more timber is harvested.
Currently, the amount of logging permitted in national forests is regulated by federal law and 10-year average annual benchmarks. The maximum 10-year average annual sale quantity of sawtimber for the Black Hills National Forest is 18.1 million cubic feet, which was exceeded in 2017 when 18.6 million cubic feet were sold. Van Every included in his approval that the resiliency project would not violate these regulations, and that the Forest Service will be compiling new tree inventories that could help managers ensure stable harvest levels.
Find a full report on the recent state of South Dakota’s forests here.