Sturgis, SD - Recent news reports cite Meade County of cutting more healthy pine trees than mountain pine beetle (MPB) infested trees in its (2012-2013) MPB cut-and-chunk program. The information in the reports is not factual.
Meade County’s MPB program was conducted on forest service lands under the review of the Northern Hills Ranger District Office. Less than 3 percent of trees cut had no sign of infestation. These uninfected trees were cut to ensure safety of the workers because they were positioned in such a way that they might cause a nearby infected tree to "kick back" at or otherwise injure the cutter.
The false information about Meade County's MPB eradication efforts was released by SDSU Professor John Ball of Brookings, who has a different definition of "infested" than the forest service. Meade County's instructions from the forest service were to cut all trees which had evidence of attack by three or more pine beetles. Those instructions were followed. Forest service personnel inspected Meade County’s MPB work and provided the county with written reports with comments which characterized the work as "excellent" and another stated, "overall, the work was completed to specifications."
Aside from the differences in the definition of "infected" tree, there are other reasons the Meade County Commission disputes news accounts that Meade County cut more healthy trees than infested trees:
1) John Ball himself is quoted as saying he did not sample a sufficient number of cutting sites to make a reliable report, even under his definition of "infected."
2) John Ball's data, as reported in recent news articles, differs significantly from data he released earlier in the year to Meade and other counties.
John Ball has also been critical of the fact that Meade County continued cut-and-chunk operations last year past his recommended deadline of March 1. The Meade County agreement with the forest service specified a cut-and-chunk deadline of May 1, which differs from the professor's recommendation. Meade County followed the cutting period specified in its contract with the forest service. Meade County releases the following March 1, 2013 email exchange on that issue between Ball and Commissioner Alan Aker, who was supervising the Meade County program at that time:
"Aker: Hi John, Please forward your study on effectiveness of cut-and-chunk at different times and sites. I would like to learn more. Thanks, Alan
Ball: What's the point? You are not following it anyway.
Aker: That's a surprising response. And disappointing. I'll see if I can find it on the web.
Ball: We will send some info in a week or two (we prepared findings as a poster for the Western Forest Insect Conference next week). I can send as a pdf afterwards as well as the paper. However Kurt and I have presented the data numerous times and we are disappointed and puzzled why you would ignore this and continue cutting beyond the timeline. What is your justification?"