Government leaders meet with people affected by pine beetles

Tourism, the local economy and thousands of ponderosa pine trees have been under attack by the pine beetle.  And the negative affects from the bugs on the black hills continues to spread.

People together in Hill City on Sunday to voice their concerns, fears and suggestions for the problem with government leaders.

“What I’m representing is the concerns the anger, the frustration of the folks who invested their life and live in the beautiful Black Hills we call home,” said James Scherrer, of Black Hills Orthopedic and Spine Center.

 It’s a home that is being threathed by the pine beetle infestation.

“Time is of the essence, we don’t have a lot of time on our hands to try to stem the tide of this explosion of beetles,” said Todd George, Owner of Rafter J Bar and Ranch.

Scherrer and George are among the six witnesses who testified before South Dakota’s lone representative, Kristi Noem and Natural Resources Subcommittee Chairman Rob Bishop. Dozens of concerned landowners listened in with the brown, dying trees on Mount Elmo in the background.

“This is a good setting where people can just talk and see what’s happening,” said Ron Shafer, a logger.

What’s happening in the forest doesn’t just stay in the forest. That’s why so many people are concerned.  The beetle epidemic could hamper the timber and tourism industries across several states.

“The U.S. Forest Service has not been stewards of their property, a gross neglect,” Scherrer said.

“It’s their duty to come in and maintain them and they haven’t been doing that. And that’s the story battle that I need to fight on Washington, DC, said Congresswoman Noem of South Dakota. “And this congressional hearing is going to help me do that.”

While the witnesses hope Representative Noem will voice their concerns on a national level they also hope these reddish brown images will speak for themselves.

Forest service officers say each year the pine beetle infestation goes untreated twice as many trees are at risk. They say challenges by environmentalists and the federal government have left South Dakota two years behind schedule to reduce the insect outbreak.

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