Recent Press Releases

Washington, D.C. —  Senator John Thune today sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to bear in mind the severity of the pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills National Forest and surrounding forest land. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently redirected $40 million to combat pine beetle damage in the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region, which includes the Black Hills National Forest, but USDA has not yet specified how the money will be divided within the region.

“Pine beetle damage leads to an elevated risk of wildfires and soil degradation, both in the Black Hills National Forest and on surrounding private land,” said Thune. “Adequate resources are necessary to address the situation. Failure to limit beetle damage impairs the safety of communities within and near the forest and visitors alike.”

Last month, Senator Thune joined a bipartisan group of his colleagues representing states within the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region in sending a letter to USDA requesting funding to contain the beetle damage, which resulted in the $40 million allocation. In July, Senator Thune outlined a beetle management plan based on using afflicted biomass for renewable energy production.

The full text of Senator Thune’s letter follows:

December 16, 2009

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20250-003

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

I write to express my appreciation for your recent commitment of an additional $40 million to address the bark beetle infestation in several Western states, including South Dakota. As you noted, the public safety concerns and forest health needs that have arisen out of this epidemic are extremely serious. The future of the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota and other forests in the American West are at stake. As a member of the Senate’s Forestry Subcommittee, I held a meeting in the Black Hills last summer with those concerned with the beetle epidemic and I can assure you that the concerns expressed were deep and heartfelt.

It is my understanding that Regional Forester Rick Cables is awaiting further direction on how to disperse these funds. I respectfully urge the USDA and Forest Service to quickly provide the direction, keeping in mind the urgent needs of the Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota. During the past decade, roughly one of every four acres in the Black Hills National Forest has been impacted by the pine beetle outbreak.

As one the most heavily roaded forests, and one with intense intermingling of public and private land, the dead dying timber due to bark beetles in the Black Hills offers grave safety concerns for visitors to our national parks, recreationists and citizens of several communities within the forest. The additional fuel loads these infected trees provide also greatly increase the risk of catastrophic fire danger in the area. Additionally, the Black Hills National Forest has an active forest products industry and forest management infrastructure that can immediately utilize additional funding to remove dead trees and thin areas threatened by the pine beetle.

As you consider the allocation of these funds, I urge you to keep the Black Hills National Forest one of the key focuses of this effort. Again, thank you for your continued work and recognition of the severity of the pine beetle epidemic in the Rocky Mountain Region. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


United States Senate

Cc: Mr. Tom Tidwell, Chief, US. Forest Service
Rick Cables, Regional Forester