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Hazard Trees Threaten Roads

Hazard Trees Threaten Roads

by Charmaine White Face
When I heard that the South Dakota Department of Transportation and the U. S. Forest Service that manages the Black Hills National Forest are going to remove "hazard trees" along some of the most scenic roads in the Black Hills, I had to take a look for my self. I wanted to see these "hazard trees." Do these "hazard trees" jump out in front of your car? Or do they wait until you're below them and drop a branch on top of your vehicle? I never thought trees could be hazardous to your health. I always thought without them we would die since they give us oxygen.

A friend of mine and I decided to courageously confront these "hazard trees." We drove into the Norbeck Wilderness Area, on the Norbeck Scenic Byway, or Highway 16A, also called the Pig Tail Bridges Road, or Iron Mountain Road. We approached it from the entrance near Keystone. About 4-5 miles from Keystone, we saw two, majestic, huge yellow-bark pine trees that had been painted for cutting. My friend tried to hug the tree, but it was too big. He held out his arm which was the same size as the width of the trunk and I took a picture with the slashes of pink and bluish paint just above his arm.

This was an ancient pine tree about three feet from the asphalt roadway. For the trunk to reach this width, it had to be at least 100 years old if not older. It will be cut down because it is a "hazard tree." There was not a mark on it, so it had not jumped out in front of any vehicle in the past 100 years...but it might in the future.

The plans are to cut down "hazard trees" to a width of 10 yards from the road. But evidently, on the Norbeck Byway, that's not the case since only certain trees were painted. Not all the trees on both sides of the road to 10 yards were painted. Some trees actually grew to the edge of the roadway but they will not be removed. And it wasn't just the pine trees. There were also aspen, oak, and birch that had the pink and blue markings. The size didn't matter either. Some were young trees, about 8 inches in diameter, but others were old like the ancient pine tree.

As we drove, we noticed other 'hazards' but they were not considered. In one place, seven trees standing in front of a huge granite outcrop were all painted to be cut down. I guess that was to make it easier for vehicles to run into the giant boulder. On another very steep enbankment, another group of trees, holding up the enbankment, are painted to be cut down. I wondered if the State DOT came into a bunch of money they have to spend so they plan on having to reinforce the enbankment.

We did notice that the bigger, older trees with diameters larger than 20 inches were more likely to be painted. Did that mean they were more a hazard than a smaller tree with a diameter of 12 inches?
The speed limit in most of these places is 15-20 miles per hour because of the terrain and the curves. None of these trees had any signs of being struck by vehicles before.

When we reached the other entrance of the Norbeck Byway that goes into Custer State Park, the effect of this absolutely insane idea hit me very hard. There were two ancient oak trees more than 40 feet
high, about 3 feet in diameter, and located at least six feet from the road edge, that are painted to be killed. They have to be more than 100 years old. Oak has a very hard time growing in the Black Hills due to the minimal amount of moisture. They did not have a mark on them. No vehicle ever grazed their bark. Yet, someone somewhere decided they need to be killed. Is it someone who is only thinking of the amount of boardfeet? Is it someone who is only thinking in terms of dollars? These two ancient "hazard trees" did not jump in front of our car, nor drop a branch on top of us. They only gave us a tremendous amounts of oxygen, and provide food and shelter for innumerable birds and wildlife.

Unfortunately, it's not just the Norbeck Byway that is slated for the killing of "hazard trees." There are other roads as well. What is the reason for this? Isn't logging in the other 97% of the Black Hills enough?

Stop the cutting of "Hazard trees" in the Black Hills. Write to Michael D. Lloyd, District Ranger, Hell Canyon Ranger District, 330 Mt. Rushmore Road, Custer, SD 57730.


Charmaine White Face, Coordinator Defenders of the Black Hills PO Box 2003 Rapid City, SD 57709 www.defendblackhills.org

Mission Statement

"Defenders of the Black Hills is a group of volunteers without racial or tribal boundaries whose mission is to preserve, protect, and restore the environment of the 1851 and 1868 Treaty Territories, Treaties made between the United States and the Great Sioux Nation."

Speaking about radioactive fallout, the late President John F. Kennedy said,

"Even then, the number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby who may be born long after we are gone, should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent."

July 26, 1963 upon signing the ban on above ground nuclear tests