Festival Raises Awareness For Destructive Pine Beetle Invasion

The damaging effect of the mountain pine beetle on the forest ecosystem in the Black Hills is brought to light every winter in Custer, South Dakota, when hundreds of revelers carrying torches light a gigantic wooden beetle effigy on fire.

According to local newspapers, firemen from Custer got the torches ready and lit them so that locals could carry them in a procession to the pyre on Saturday night, January 20th, during the eleventh Burning Beetle festival.

While drumming and cries of “Burn, beetle, burn!” the crowd burned the towering beetle sculpture. Although firefighters cautioned participants not to toss the torches, several did so anyway, and some even set fire to the pine trees that were heaped at the foot of the tower. Above, fireworks gleamed.  Various shows and activities are part of the event’s mission to boost the creative community in the area.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the mountain pine beetle is the most damaging, persistent, and aggressive bark beetle in Canada and the western U.S.

South Dakota’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources reports that the Black Hills have been hit by many beetle outbreaks since the 1890s, with the most recent one occurring from 1996 to 2016 and impacting an area of 703 square miles.

According to the National Park Service, native North American bark beetles have been shaping North American forests for countless generations. Bark beetles may be found from Canada to Mexico, from sea level to over 11,000 feet in height. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and the rest of Colorado’s western slope have been feeling the pinch of bark beetle infestations in recent years, particularly in Grand County, where a mountain pine beetle pandemic has broken out.

Within RMNP, you may see seventeen different species of bark beetles, all belonging to the Dendroctonus and Ips families. Native bark bugs have made periodic appearances throughout the park’s history. Nonetheless, the current epidemic is the worst one yet. Bark beetles are acknowledged as a natural occurrence even though they significantly reduce tree cover. Several bark beetle species are now doing havoc on several types of pine trees, including ponderosa, lodgepole,  limber, Colorado blue spruce, Engelmann, and subalpine.