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Pennington County faces shortfall in beetle battle

RAPID CITY (AP) -- A budget misstep is forcing South Dakota's Pennington County to dip into emergency funds to keep up the fight against the mountain pine beetle.

Federal dollars have made up the bulk of the county's eradication budget since it began the fight in 2011. The county expected to get about $200,000 for the program this year but received only $37,000, Commissioner Ron Buskerud told the media.

"Some of those things that we don't know ahead of time, we do have to estimate," Commissioner Lyndell Petersen said.

The county likely will need at least an additional $175,000 this year to continue the battle against the pest that has devastated pine forests in some areas of the Black Hills, according to Scott Guffey, supervisor of the county Weed and Pest Department.

"If we don't do anything, we could see (infected) trees multiply by another four to eight times over the next couple years," he said.

The beetle is estimated to have killed 400,000 acres of forest in the Black Hills since 1996 -- about 625 square miles.

The commission will draw $80,000 from the county's emergency disaster fund next week so crews can continue cutting down infested trees through the end of the month. Petersen said it is the first time in at least three years that the county has dipped into the fund that usually covers costs associated with disasters such as fires and blizzards.

The board likely will need to draw deeper from its emergency disaster fund to keep the program running through the year. Commissioner Nancy Trautman said the commission is waiting for the Legislature to vote on a bill that would provide matching funds to counties for fighting the beetle.

Buskerud said that although the shortfall is frustrating, the stakes are too high to cut back the county's bug-fighting efforts.

"It's one of those things that are so big out here and so destructive it will take a lot of money to really fight it properly," he said. "And if you don't fight it properly there's no sense fighting it at all."