RAPID CITY, S.D. — The U.S. Forest Service is hurrying to finish an analysis of available timber in South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest following the pine beetle epidemic.

The work usually takes a decade, but forest officials are trying to finish in two years, the Rapid City Journal reported .

Forest officials announced in March the end of a 20-year mountain pine beetle epidemic that affected about 450,000 acres (182,000 hectares), or roughly a third of the forest. The beetles kill pine trees and left large areas of the forest brown.

Officials hope the accelerated analysis will help the Forest Service decide the appropriate amount of logging to allow now that the epidemic has ended. The forest is well-known for its significance in the timber industry.

“It’s something we’re going to have to wrestle with,” said Forest Supervisor Mark Van Every. “What does a sustainable program look like in the Black Hills going into the future?”

Logging continued during the epidemic, and even increased in some areas, as forest managers cleared out dead trees that presented fire hazards and tried to thin dense tree stands where pine beetles thrived.

Van Every said the forest became popular for timber because of a high natural rate of tree regeneration in the Black Hills, the economic health of the local timber industry and the comparatively low number of legal challenges that logging faces.

He discussed the work Wednesday during a Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board meeting in Rapid City. He said forest officials have visited about 200 representative plots scattered across the forest this year and plan to visit 200 more next year to finish the analysis.


Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com