May 20, 2013
Guest blogging today is Bryan Bjerke, public relations director.
We celebrate trees, giving them their own day, and, of course, Joyce Kilmer’s poem. But we also tend to take them for granted much of the time. When you consider the important role trees play in agriculture, it’s crucial that we pay attention to what’s happening to what is an overlooked American crop.
Growing up on a farm in eastern South Dakota, one of the best resources for adventure was our shelterbelt. In the spring, summer and fall, there were tree forts to build, adventures to plan and execute. And in the winter there were huge snowdrifts that meant carving out tunnels for winter hideouts.
As I grew a bit older, I learned that these marvelous places weren’t there just for childhood enjoyment and fantasy. Shelterbelts served a positive purpose for agriculture in the Great Plains. And it all came about in response to the devastating droughts of the 1930s.
On July 21, 1934, President Roosevelt instructed the Forest Service to initiate the Prairie States Forestry Project. The idea was to plant shelterbelts in six Great Plains states that would help protect crops and wildlife from wind and intercept blowing snow and sand, and also be a source of wood. By the time the project was completed in 1942, more than 145 million trees had been planted.
Shelterbelts survived and thrived for decades. But due to a number of circumstances, many have been neglected and fallen into sad shape. As I drive through rural areas today, much of that neglect is pretty obvious. A recent spring ice storm in South Dakota has added to the problem in southeastern South Dakota.
It’s been said that leadership is planting trees under whose shade you’ll never sit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is exercising some of that type of leadership when it comes to shelterbelt restoration and renovation. Three years ago, federal grants were made available to South Dakota, North Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska through the Great Plains Shelterbelt Renovation project for shelterbelt maintenance and restoration. Dolly Parton said that “storms make trees take deeper roots.” So there’s hope. But there’s also a long way to go to bring shelterbelts back.
I recently traveled to the west side of South Dakota, the beautiful Black Hills, where there’s still plenty of natural beauty to be found. But the forests continue to be threatened and heavily damaged by the mountain pine beetle epidemic. The South Dakota Department of Agriculture is working with the federal Bureau of Land Management and other groups to try to manage and mitigate the damage.
As you can see in this photo, many landowners are removing damaged trees and thinning healthy tree stands. Other measures include cut and chunk, cut and burn, prescribed fire and chemical spraying. The fight goes on and will for years to come.
It’s good to remember that trees are another valuable crop that this country has in abundance. But just like any other crop, trees are at risk from the elements and creatures. That’s why the Departments of Agriculture, both federal and local, take an active role in keeping this beautiful and valuable crop healthy and viable for generations to come.
The outdoor writer Hal Borland said it well, “If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.”