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Monday, September 21, 2009

Pine Beetles Threaten Harney Peak Trails: Clear 'Em Out!

Regular readers know I get a little sentimental about trees. I'm also a big fan of Harney Peak, one of South Dakota's great geological wonders, not to mention the center of the universe for some of our neighbors.

So a little blurb on KELO about timber cutting shutting down two Harney Peak trails gets me going on two levels. I go looking for the full story and get it from (who else?) Kevin Woster. He gets my attention with one sentence from Custer State Park Superintendent Richard Miller about what pine beetles are doing to the Black Elk Wilderness:

Miller said there are estimates that 80 percent of all the trees in the Black Elk will be dead in two to three years....

Oof. The proper response: clear out about 3000 acres of beetle-infested trees. Beetles can spread from tree to tree more easily in forests made artifically thick by our overzealous fire suppression policies. Thin the trees, slow the beetles.

CAH below Harney Peak, coming up the north face from Willow Creek trailhead, August 2001. Photo: Tobias W. Uecker
I've been up Harney Peak several times, usually day-hiking, a couple times backpacking, and once snow-shoeing. The hike and the summit peak are glorious every time. I've hung out with hikers cooking noodles out of the wind in the old fire station. I've ridden the top of the tower through an advancing sea of clouds at sunset. I've come home with feet a-glitter from the mica trails. And I've rested comfortably in the deep shade of the high rocks and trees along the Harney Peak trails.

I hate to see destruction done along the Harney Peak trails. But the real destroyers are the beetles and previous bad policy, not the loggers being brought in to clean up the mess. CSP chief forester Adam Gahagan says the cleared areas will green up fast, much like the recovery seen in the area of the 1988 Galena fire. It will not be the same thick forest... but a thick forest of dead brown trees is no forest at all.

To keep the Idaho helicopter crews from dropping logs on hikers' heads, Trail #4 at Little Devils Tower will be closed through the winter. Trail #9 from Sylvan Lake will be closed from October 1 until Christmas (keep to that schedule, fellas: there are folks planning their New Year's hike!). If you want to visit Harney Peak this fall, you'll need to come up the north face from the Willow Creek trailhead (Hiram Rogers's favorite route).

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