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Black Hills National Forest unveils pine beetle plan

RAPID CITY (AP) -- The Black Hills National Forest plans to use extensive commercial tree thinning to battle the mountain pine beetle as part of a $70 million plan that will take five to seven years to implement.

The plan developed over more than a year will target 248,000 acres of vulnerable woodlands within the 1.2-million-acre forest in western South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, according to Forest Supervisor Craig Bobzien. Commercial logging and non-commercial thinning will be used on about half of the acres to make them more resistant to the destructive bugs that have infested more than 40 million acres of the nation's forests, killing trees and increasing the danger for forest fires.

"My decision allows us to act more quickly on more areas to combat the mountain pine beetle and reduce hazardous fuels," Bobzien said in a statement. "It addresses concerns about safety and will help protect communities and resources from large-scale, severe wildfires."

Officials estimate that the beetle infests about 405,000 acres of the Black Hills National Forest -- about one-third of the forest.

The plan also includes up to 50 miles of new roads and an emphasis on protecting the scenic Spearfish Canyon.

The plan was lauded by members of South Dakota's congressional delegation. Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson and Rep. Kristi Noem all have worked to secure federal money for pine beetle work. Noem said in a statement that the Black Hills National Forest project could serve as a blueprint for other Western states.