The Norbeck Project evaluated 12 "focus species" to assess project impacts, and found that beetles were benefiting 11. Beetles create open spaces by thinning stands, some drastically, by culling pines from hardwoods, spruce, and meadows, and do it without the destruction caused by roadbuilding and bulldozing of access trails. Beetles are better for wildlife than logging.
So, you are saying that the pine beetles are nature's thinning project?
The tBHNF imber base is about 1 million acres. So 20,000 acres/year of logging is a 50 year rotation. Old-growth habitat and large-diameter tree and snag habitat simply cannot be sustained under such an aggressive level of logging. We need something closer to a 100-year rotation, with 150-200 year rotations on a quarter of the BHNF, if logging-sensitive wildlife are to be sustained.
Nature's main disturbance agents on ponderosa pine forests are wildfire and bark beetles. The current beetle outbreak has been described as a "slow motion wildfire" which sounds better than an actual wildfire to most people. Stopping beetle and fire processes just kicks the can down the road, and makes the problems worse in the future.
Jason, I live inside the Norbeck Preserve, just about precisely in the middle of the Palmer Gulch Timber Sale. The Project Decision made logging treatment proposals based on claimed benefits to wildlife. These trees were marked about a year ago, marking the typical 2/3 of trees to be cut by logging. Now that the logging is occurring, additional trees hit by beetles are also being marked for cutting, raising the total logging mortality to 80-90 percent of the trees. This sale is rated as 13.1 inches dbh (diameter at breast height), of which only a few percent exist on the entire Black Hills. For a penny a board foot, I would say that the Palmer Gulch Timber Sale is a crime.
The experience in the Beaver Park beetle outbreak of a decade ago should that beetles killed less than half the mature trees, and had similar thinning attributes as timber sales.
Brian, you seem to have a great deal of knowledge about ponderosa pines and pine beetles. Out of curiosity, what is your educational background?
The claims that "all of Black Elk is dead" and "every tree in Norbeck less than 6' tall will be killed" (the latter is the actual Forest Service claim) are "greatly exaggerated". In a decade, everyone will be wondering what all the fuss was about.
I graduated valedictorian of Rapid City High in 1968, attended MIT obtaining Bachelors degrees in Mathematics and Civil Engineering in 1973, and Masters degree in Civil Engineering in 1975. I worked for two decades as Senior Research Engineer in MIT's Department of Transportation, then returned to the Black Hills in 1987 as a private engineering / software consultant. I am self-taught about the practices of the Forest Service.
Thank you, Brian. Are there other public lands in the Black Hills area that your group believes is being mismanaged? Wind Cave NP or Custer State Park, for instance? Please explain.
One thing I have noticed from following the comments on Journal forestry articles is that many commentors seem to think that environmentalists are all outside agitators. This is not true.
Friends of the Norbeck (FotN) is a South Dakota non-profit incorporated in 2010 specifically to oppose the Norbeck Timber Sale. The original Directors were all landowners within the land on the north side of the Norbeck Preserve, in the Palmer Gulch / Palmer Creek area. I am a life-long resident and owner of the oldest cabin in Palmer Gulch. The other Directors are three-generation residents owning the largest private inholding within the Norbeck Scenic Byway. The largest prescribed burn in the Palmer Gulch Timber Sale area is essentially the triangle between the properties of the three original Directors of FotN.
The worst managed land in the Black Hills is, without doubt, Custer State Park. The current central hills beetle outbreak began in CSP in 2003 in Sunday Gulch, exacerbated by the sloppy logging practices being done in the Sylvan Lake Area. If South Dakota had any environmental laws to enforce, CSP would be shut down in a hearbeat.
Are there any wildlife species -- birds, mammals, etc. -- whose population levels are threatened or should be reintroduced into the Hills?
Our local "spotted owl" is the northern goshawk. Goshawk levels are far below their potential on the BHNF (30 vs potential 300 breeding pairs) according to the panel of goshawk experts interviewed during the Phase II Amendment process. Unfortunately, the management recommendations from these experts were ignored by the Forest Service, since they all involved reduced logging and/or providing greater areas of undisturbed / older forest. Goshawk abandonment of historic nest territories has risen dramatically on the BHNF in recent years, with a 2003 monitoring effort that found only 8 of 72 previously-recorded goshawk territories were occupied. Logging is a greater threat to goshawk nest stands than beetle outbreaks.
Thanks, Brian. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we conclude our chat?
Another species of concern, one that has been reintroduced, is the American marten. The American marten (aka "pine" marten) was reintroduced into the BHNF after being extirpated. Only two populations exist, in Spearfish Canyon and the Norbeck Preserve. The Spearfish Canyon groups is thought to be the larger, and interactions between the two populations are unknown, leading to concerns about viability over the long-term Logging to control beetles will greatly reduce current and future large fallen logs, which are critical habitat components for marten.
Thank you, Brian Brademeyer, for participating in our Live Chat this afternoon. I think our readers found it informative.