Forest Service clears up reasons for brown, red pine trees around the Black Hills

The Black Hills Forest Service, which has received calls of concern regarding the trees, showed reasons as to why certain trees in the Black Hills appear to have red or brown pine needles.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The Mountain Pine epidemic killed millions of trees in the Black Hills Forest, which began in 1996.

And with reports of trees with brown and red pine needles in the area of Reptile Gardens, calls of fear coming to the Forest Service.

However, severe hail storms from last year, where the Black Hills reported many storms with inch-plus size hail, are being pegged as the culprit.

Ips Beetle 2

Courtesy of the Black Hills National Forest

“Our largest hail reported as four inches in diameter by Pactola and several of those storms tracked quite a ways a long and so they could kill pine trees,” said Susan Sanders, a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Rapid City.

Plus, there’s a way to tell the difference between beetle damage and hail.

“Generally, it’s only part of the tree, that the needles turn color, turn red or brown and the other parts of tree are still green and the needles look normal and, you know, that’s largely a factor of depending on which direction the hail came in on,” said Kurt Allen, an Entomologist with the Black Hills National Forest.

Allen says it will take a few years for the trees to shed their old needles, but they aren’t dead.

“They still are alive, they still have green needles, they’re putting on new growth,” Allen said.

Still patches of brown trees strewn about in the Black Hills, but a different pest, the Ips Engraver Beetle, said to be responsible.

It can be pretty difficult for anybody to identify the ailment of a pine tree, but the Forest Service says there are three main areas to look at as it pertains to an Ips Beetle attack: the size of the tree (as they attack trees as small as two inches in diameter, which isn’t a trait of the Mountain Pine Beetle), the size of the cluster or overall infected area (the Mountain Pine Beetle impacts bigger areas of trees in shorter amounts of time), and the overall appearance of the tree or its needles.

These beetles aren’t as aggressive or as much of a threat as the Mountain Pine Beetle, but it’s important to know what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for an indication of an Ips Beetle attack, look for the following things:

  • How many trees are infected (Mountain Pine Beetle tend to expand their area of infestation as time passes as opposed to the Ips Beetle, which is more sporadic.)
  • The pine needle color on ALL sides of the tree and not just one side (as hail).
  • A pitch tube, (more commonly seen on Mountain Pine Beetle infested trees, but can be seen on trees infested by the Ips Beetle.)

Trees that are more likely to be attacked by the Ips Beetle (which are native to the Black Hills) are ones that have been damaged by events like hail and those who are damaged during drought conditions. There are at least five different kinds of the Ips Beetle.

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