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Mountain Pine Beetles in the Black Hills - A Century of Science

Posted date: August 17, 2016

New science synthesis pulls together the past in order to point towards the future

Moscow, Idaho, August 16, 2016 – A new scientific synthesis “Mountain Pine Beetles: A Century of Knowledge, Control Attempts, and Impacts Central to the Black Hills” from the U.S. Forest Service showcases findings from 100 years of research on mountain pine beetles in the Black Hills.

2011 landscape photo of mountain pine beetle devastation, northeast of Custer looking north to Harney Peak. Photo by USDA Forest Service
2011 landscape photo of mountain pine beetle devastation, northeast of Custer looking north to Harney Peak. Photo by USDA Forest Service

“This is a remarkable publication,” said Craig Bobzien, retired Forest Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest. “It’s rich with science, control techniques, and impacts associated with the mountain pine beetles in the Black Hills. It weaves the story of people, their studies and their practices spanning over a century into a single body of work.”

No area of the Black Hills (spans South Dakota and Wyoming) have been spared infestation by the mountain pine beetle. Outbreaks have occurred about every 20 years, lasting an average of 13 years in the Hills’ ponderosa pine forests. Bark beetles have killed more trees than logging, weather, disease, fire, and other pressures combined despite major bark beetle control efforts, including burning, harvesting, peeling, and spraying infested trees with insecticides.

Scientists have been working on this problem since the 1890s. The value of long-term research is really showcased here. One major finding is that the most resistant pine stands are those with densities from 40 to 80 square feet per acre basal area, where air turbulence influenced by tree density most effectively disrupts pheromone flow (the beetle’s primary means of communication). In contrast, experimental plots showed that stands with densities of 120 to 150 square feet of basal area per acre lost the most volume to the mountain pine beetle. But it’s not always as simple as stand density: the mountain pine beetle carries a suite of organisms with it such as mites, fungi, nematodes, and bacteria that also influence how a tree reacts to its attack. The publication explores these elements as well the impacts of various forest treatments, climate events, and control attempts on the mountain pine beetle.

Mountain pine beetle. Photo by USDA Forest Service.
Mountain pine beetle. Photo by USDA Forest Service.
Despite one hundred years of research on this topic, there is still more to learn. Climate will most likely be an important factor in future insect dynamics. Although it appears that the current epidemic of mountain pine beetles in the Black Hills is waning, the fate of the remaining trees is far from certain. This publication, led by Dr. Russ Graham of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, explores what we know about this fascinating and powerful organism.

“To my knowledge, this is the most comprehensive publication that documents over a century of understanding and impacts of the mountain pine beetle in the Black Hills. It is paramount for working knowledge of ponderosa pine here,” said Blaine Cook, Forest Silviculturist of the Black Hills National Forest. “It has a wealth of information that will help us and future generations for management of the beautiful Black Hills.”

Related Publications

Graham, Russell T. ; Asherin, Lance A. ; Battaglia, Mike A. ; Jain, Terrie B. ; Mata, Stephen A. , 2016

The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development. RMRS maintains 14 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale. To find out more about the RMRS go to You can also follow us on Twitter at




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Jennifer Hayes
Public Affairs Specialist