Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota Spruce Vegetation Management Project


Logging would occur in spruce stands like this on the Black Hills National Forest.

Photo credit: Norbeck Society


Why this forest is special

The Black Hills of South Dakota, referred to as an “island in the plains,” rise several thousand feet above the great plains with granite peaks reaching to 7,200 feet. Two-thirds of the hills comprise the Black Hills National Forest, which straddles the border between South Dakota and Wyoming. It is the southernmost occurrence of white spruce, which has evolved into a unique variant, Black Hills spruce, found nowhere else on the planet. It is South Dakota’s state tree. Mountain lions roam the landscape while eagles, bats and hawks take to the sky and wildflowers grace the landscape.

Spruce Vegetation Management Project The project will remove virtually all spruce trees — targeting the largest and oldest spruce — across 25,000 acres, or nearly 40 square miles. Such extensive logging, including clearcuts more than 40 football fields or larger in size, will likely require miles of new roads. With no size or age limit, the project will liquidate roughly half of the spruce habitat on the Black Hills National Forest, which many wildlife and plant species rely on. After the large, old spruce is logged, the Forest Service will then log the small spruce.

Carbon storage and biodiversity

Black Hills spruce are interspersed with wetlands and riparian areas, as well as aspen, birch and beaked hazelnut trees. Spruce ecosystems hold moisture and provide critical refugia in a warming climate. Commonly living up to 300 years, these trees accumulate and hold decades of stored carbon. Spruce forests on the Black Hills provide habitat for many plant and wildlife species, including northern goshawks, lady slipper orchids, red and flying squirrels, American martens, black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers, and Cooper’s Rocky Mountain snails. Many of these species need these dense, continuous, moist forests to survive.

Why these trees should remain standing

The project will destabilize and degrade intact forest, dry out these areas and make them susceptible to increased wildfires, insect outbreaks, weeds and increased carbon emissions. Most of the logging will be at ecologically important headwaters of several major waterways. The spruce forests in high-elevation headwaters and along canyon bottoms, streams and north-facing slopes keep hillsides, springs and watercourses cool. They provide shade and their complexes of plants and rotten logs hold water and create humidity. The Forest Service’s proposed “buffers” will not meaningfully mitigate the damage from this logging project.

The future of mature and old-growth trees in Black Hills National Forest

The Forest Service has targeted stands of old pine with unsustainable cutting for 15 years or more. Bowing to political pressure to increase logging, it has now turned its attention to spruce. The outdated 2005 forest plan amendment allows only 5% of the forest’s pine trees to survive to become old growth, but less than 1% of pine trees in the Black Hills are designated as old growth. This logging project is one of more than 20 in the Black Hills targeting mature and old-growth trees.

Project status

The Forest Service initiated scoping in the first half of 2022 and is reviewing public comments.

Local contact: Dave Mertz, former forester, Black Hills National Forest mertzdave1@gmail.com

The Worth More Standing report spotlights federal forest-management practices that are liquidating mature and old-growth forests and trees every day. It includes 10 examples that are part of a pervasive pattern of federal forest mismanagement that routinely sidesteps science to turn carbon-storing giants into lumber. Learn what actions you can take to protect Climate Forests across the country.