Sixth annual Beetle Burning Festival in Custer
CUSTER, S.D. — On Saturday Custer hosted its annual pine beetle torching.
This is the sixth year the event has taken place and it drew large crowds as attendees watched a 20-foot-long wooden pine beetle replica go up in flames.
The tradition was inspired by the pine beetle epidemic that devastated thousands of trees throughout the Black Hills.
While the epidemic has officially ended, Custer residents say the beetle torching ceremony still serves as a reminder of the work left to be done.
According to Hank Fridell, one of the Burning Beetle Organizers, “It’s gone from the beetle crisis to now we’re worried about fires, because there’s a lot of dead trees on the ground and there’s a real danger in the Hills.”
Millions of dollars have been spent to mitigate the 20-year pine beetle infestation, including clearing dead trees and denser areas of forest to reduce the risk of wildfires.
The festival has grown through the years from a small gathering that allowed locals to vent their frustration over the epidemic to a nationally recognized event that’s been covered by National Geographic and attracts thousands of visitors to Custer each year.
According to Frank Carroll, Co-Owner of Wildfire Pro, the burning has also taken on additional meaning through the years.
“The beetle has become sort of a beacon, like a lighthouse in the winter sky warning people that it’s time to be out working, thinning, pruning trees, cleaning up your yards and so on. Because these big fires, like the one that hit Paradise in California, are coming to a town near us and it could be Custer.”