Climate change, logging collisions – and deforestation.

CUSTER CITY, SD – A pair of retired U.S. forestry employees lament the logging policies of two large-scale climate change harborings – pine beetles – on a steep mountainside and almost empty of trees And helped deal with wildfires.

Two decades ago, timber production in the Black Hills National Forest along the South Dakota Wyoming Border increased dramatically, as beetles destroyed extensive forests and raised concerns about wildfires.

The beetles are gone, but the loggers are not – and now they are doubling the trees that government scientists say are sustainable. This means that the forests of the Black Hills are shrinking with fewer and smaller trees.

Nationwide sales of timber from federal forests have more than doubled in the last 20 years, according to official figures. In Washington, D.C., Republicans and Democrats alike have called for more aggressive thinning of stands to reduce forest fire-fueling plants.

But critics of Federal Forest Management say that in a bid to do something about climate change, authorities are allowing the removal of many old trees that can withstand fire better.

In the Black Hills, the centuries-old Pendrosa Pines stands have thinned over the past two decades, then thinned again. In some areas, mostly old and large trees are being cut down, leaving the hillsides almost bare.

“Ultimately, you won’t plant a big tree in the whole forest,” said Dave Meritz, who worked as a government natural resources officer overseeing Black Hills logging until his retirement in 2017. “The timber industry is pulling the strings now. The forest service has lost its way.

Direct predictions

Across the western United States, more and more trees are dying because climate change dramatically changes the landscape and makes forests more sensitive. Wildfires, insects and disease are the top killers, researchers say.

An extensive government review of the Forest Health Survey since 1993 found that the death toll in this century increased and all eight states examined – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico , Surpassing new developments in Utah and Wyoming. Over the past two decades, timber harvesting from forest service lands has also increased.

In Black Hills, those two trends have clashed. More and more trees have been logged in recent years, and more have died from beetles and fires, with government scientists saying the forest cannot grow fast enough to be maintained.

The lumber industry and Congress allies are backing away from the result. Timber company representatives predict dangerous economic consequences if forest managers rapidly reduce crop levels. And they say wildfires and beetle outbreaks will only get worse.

One of the region’s seven mills closed in March, cutting 120 jobs in Hill City, South Dakota. Owner Neiman Enterprises said the recent slowdown in timber sales meant there would not be enough logs.

“These companies are not tech startups. They are multi-generation family companies that want to stay there for the long term.” Said Ben Widtke, director of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association of Hundred Mills and Logging Companies.

Fighting fire

To combat the growing devastation caused by wildfires in the West, Biden’s administration wants to double or cover 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) of proposed fires annually, larger than New Hampshire. Is.

One way to reduce the risk of fire is to remove small trees and dense underbrushes that have accumulated as forest fires for decades – a natural part of the landscape – have been suppressed.

It is expensive, labor intensive, and the market value of small trees is very low. When sworn in this summer, Forest Service chief Randy Moore said it would be necessary to cut down small trees to deal with climate change, such as using plants as biomass to generate electricity.

“It doesn’t pay off and we don’t have markets that seem to be growing fast enough,” he said.

Jim Furnish, the service’s former deputy chief, criticized the agency for focusing too much on timber production and too slow to respond to climate change.

President Joe Biden is showing signs of change, including the administration’s move last month to end large-scale commercial logging of old-growing trees in Alaska’s Tongas National Forest.

But other projects, including older developments, are pending, including the Cottinai National Forest in Montana along the Canadian border, the Cabe National Forest just north of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the Purse Clearwater National Forest in Idaho.

“The Forest Service’s point to date is to attack it as an administrative issue: ‘We need to cut down more trees,'” Furnish told the Associated Press. ۔ “

The agency’s head, Moore, acknowledged that the heat planet is forcing changes, but said he hopes to find a “sweet spot” between the environment and industry – while reducing the risk of wildfires. Is removing enough plants. In Black Hills, officials said they would consider the economic impact as well as modern science as they seek to make logging more sustainable.

“We need the industry to help us,” Moore said, referring to climate change. “It’s not really about selling wood or cutting down big trees.”

“Hit in hell”

The Black Hills played a key role in shaping the nation’s timber policies. In the 1890s, excessive logging to meet the demand for timber for a nearby gold mine helped shape the national forest system. The first regular logging sale in the history of the forest service took place in 1899.

When artist and environmentalist Mary Zimmerman bought a property inside Black Hills in 1988, neighboring public lands where timber was first sold resurfaced so successfully that large branches resembled a church.

The site was thinned out in 1990, some large trees were removed but many were abandoned. In 2016, it was further thinned. Then last year the logging crew came back and removed the rest of the big trees. Cattle now graze the area.

“It’s just a defeat in hell,” Zimmerman said.

His account was verified by Blaine Cook, a Black Hills forest management scientist for more than two decades until his 2019 retirement.

Early warnings.

Cook said his monitoring over the past decade has shown that forest growth has not kept pace with aggressive logging in response to the 1998 pine beetle outbreak. It ended in 2017.

Cook said his warnings that the forest was being damaged were rejected by top officials who had faced political pressure to provide a steady supply of tool rocks in South Dakota and Wyoming.

Disagreement within the agency over whether a report by scientists from the Forest Service’s research branch ended excessive logging in April that was unclear: Black Hills logging at least halfway to sustainability , Need to be minimized as much as possible.

The problem is that the forest has changed, but so has the logging rate, said Mike Bataglia, a lead author.

“By the end of the 90’s, you had twice as many trees in the forest,” he said. “You’re taking too much to withdraw that much money now.”

Representatives of the forestry industry criticized the government’s multi-year study for including only parts of the forest, saying it painted an incomplete picture of how many trees were available for felling.

He estimated that 80 per cent of the region’s timber industry would lose its jobs if forest services reduced logging to the recommended level. If that happens, he said, the agency will have a hard time finding companies that are willing to do less lucrative work to avoid wildfires.

“You have to have someone around,” said Wadtke of the forestry industry. It’s really important that we keep these companies going.

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Follow Matthew Brown on Twitter: att Matthew Brown AP

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Read more about AP’s climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Department of Science Education at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is fully responsible for all content.

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