BLACK HILLS, S.D. — It’s the mission to bring trees back to the Black Hills.
Every year since 2002, the U.S. Forest service has contracted with a crew of about 10 to 12 people to plant in the area of the old Jasper Fire that left over 83,500 acres burned and the soil in the area barren.
Trying to correct a problem that will take decades to fix.
“It’s going to take 60 to 80 years – 60 to 80 years – to have trees out here but if we don’t start now, we won’t have trees out here so we are managing this land for the future,” said Scott Jacobson, the Public Affairs Officer with the Black Hills National Forest.
Over the last 20 years, the Forest Service has planted around three million trees over 8,000 acres. That equals to about 150,000 to 160,000 trees each year. About 80 to 90 percent of the trees planted have taken root.
Seedlings are collected from local trees and transported to and from the Bessey Nursery in Halsey, Nebraska – a process that gives the new trees a fighting chance.
“They get grown for nine months, when we bring ’em back out, then they’re a larger tree like you see here about six to eight inches and then we plant them and they survive a lot better than natural seed just coming directly from a tree,” said Jon Word, a Natural Resources Staff Officer for the Black Hills National Forest.
But there’s a catch to the planting.
Each year, the crews only have two weeks to get as many trees in the ground in the chosen area.
“If it’s either too cold, too early in the year, or too late in the year, it gets too warm, the soils too dry, they don’t take so we’ve scientifically kinda narrowed it down to that pretty small window,” Word said.
Planting a seed now for a healthier forest in the future.