Preserving Black Hills forestlands helps ensure thriving tourism

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Farm Forum

South Dakota is a state known for its beautiful landscapes, abundant wildlife, and numerous attractions that draw millions of visitors to the state each year. While there are unique tourist destinations throughout the state, the Black Hills of South Dakota has come to be known for its nationally recognized sites, recreational activity, and rich history.

Completely surrounded by prairie flatlands, the Black Hills beckons visitors from around the world with popular attractions such as Mount Rushmore, where tourists can view the faces of some of our most venerated presidents carved into a mountain, or visit Wind Cave National Park with its more than 5,000 acres of unique underground caverns and scenic forestland. Tourists can also visit Korczak and Ruth Ziolkowski’s yet-to-be-completed tribute to a visionary Lakota leader at Crazy Horse monument, or enjoy South Dakota’s unique and ample wildlife at Custer State Park. These distinctive and beautiful sites are all tucked inside the boundaries of the Black Hills.

However, the beauty of the Black Hills is in jeopardy due to the alarming pine beetle infestation that since 1996 has killed and damaged pine trees across more than 400,000 acres of the Black Hills landscape. Although only a fraction of an inch long, pine beetles are a serious and growing threat to the Black Hills National Forest and the state’s important tourism industry, which generates nearly $2 billion annually for South Dakota’s economy.

That’s why I continue to lead the fight in Congress for a commonsense approach to combatting the pine beetle epidemic. I included a provision in the Senate-passed 2012 Farm Bill and was able to secure the same provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that allows state governors to request the Forest Service’s designation of the most critical national forest areas in need of insect and disease treatment. The Farm Bill’s newly streamlined landscape priority process led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recently approve 72 contiguous units, or approximately 992,080 acres in the Black Hills National Forest for high priority pine beetle and disease treatment. This designation should improve control of the devastating pine beetle outbreak in these areas.

Successfully fighting the pine beetle epidemic is critical to ensuring we preserve one of South Dakota’s, and our nation’s, greatest treasures. I am committed to continuing my work in the Senate to maintain the beauty of the Black Hills by enacting much needed reforms to more effectively preserve our nation’s forests.