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Falling trees a danger now in Black Hills forest

May 30, 2013 - The Associated Press

RAPID CITY, S.D. -- Falling trees pose an increasing threat to hikers, bikers, campers and others in the Black Hills National Forest of northeastern Wyoming and western South Dakota, and U.S. Forest Service officials are giving a literal "heads-up" warning to recreationists.

Pine trees killed by mountain pine beetles on hundreds of thousands of acres are decaying and becoming more likely to tumble.

Windy days are particularly dangerous, but trees can fall at any time in any conditions, said Dave Slepnikoff, resource staff officer for the Mystic Ranger District in Rapid City, S.D.

"Don't keep your eyes on the ground out there," Slepnikoff said. "Please look up, be aware of your surroundings, and use caution when entering the Black Hills National Forest this spring and summer."

In Wyoming, forest use often is heaviest in are around Sundance and Devils Tower National Monument. The beetle-kill problem is worse on the South Dakota side, but significant tree damage exists on the Wyoming side as well.

The Forest Service has removed some potentially dangerous trees near campgrounds and other high-traffic areas. The agency also has had success in spraying trees in those recreation areas to protect them from pine beetle attacks, but federal funding is a continuing challenge.

Because of that, volunteers have been especially helpful in clearing hiking trails, trail heads and other areas where spring snowstorms and strong winds knocked down trees.

Trails on the north and west sides of Harney Peak were among the hardest hit, but "dead trees can fall at any time and there is potential for trails to be blocked," said Dave Pickford, recreation specialist for the Hill Canyon Ranger District in Custer, S.D.

Last weekend, volunteers from the Black Hills Back Country Horsemen joined members of a Forest Service fire crew and Custer County Search and Rescue personnel in clearing fallen trees from some recreational trails.

"We were just sitting in camp and trees were falling up above us, and there was no wind," said Doug Bechen of Whitewood, a spokesman for the 80-member horsemen's group. "They were just falling. It's a dangerous deal, and we wish we could do more."

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