I invite my friend Larry Kurtz, who has some remarkable perspectives on the Black Hills and pine beetles, and other environmentally sensitive readers to comment on Rep. Kristi Noem's effort to turn the current pine beetle infestation to her political advantage.

Noem has been urging citizens to write the White House and demand action on the pine beetle epidemic. Specifically, Noem wants the Obama Administration to lift environmental regulations and allow our "robust forest products industry" to solve this emergency. I've expressed support for such a pine beetle solution... but there is debate over whether logging does any good, or whether we just have to ride out the cycle and wait for a good cold winter.

Of course, we should remember that this "emergency" has been going on for over a decade. And it's just one in a long history of infestations:

Stress agents such as drought can lower the resistance of a stand and increase mountain pine beetle populations to highly destructive epidemic levels (Schmid and others 1991). Epidemics typically have an 11- to 20-year cycle (Lessard 1984; Pasek and Schaupp 1992) with an outbreak lasting from 2 to 14 years (McMillin and Allen 1999; Schmid and Mata 1992a). From 1895 to 1910, the mountain pine beetle was estimated to have killed trees containing up to 2 billion board feet of lumber in the Black Hills (Boldt and Van Deusen 1974). Outbreaks continued to plague the Black Hills throughout the 1930s, 1940s, 1960s, and 1970s (McMillin and Allen 1999). Tree mortality exceeded 250,000 trees per year for several years during the 1960s and 1970s (Thompson 1975). From 1988 to 1990, 50,000 trees on less than 11,000 acres (4,451 ha) were killed by mountain pine beetle (Pasek and Schaupp 1992). By the mid-1990s, tree mortality by mountain pine beetle was light and scattered throughout the Hills (McMillin and Allen 1999), but aerial surveys in the late 1990s indicated a sharp increase in mountain pine beetle populations with over 25,000 trees killed in 1999 (McMillin and Allen 1999) [Wayne D. Shepperd and Michael A. Battaglia, Ecology, Silviculture, and Management of Black Hills Ponderosa Pine, USDA Forest Service, September 2002, p. 17].

Kristi Noem served in the South Dakota Legislature for four years before going to Congress. She and her colleagues seem to have barely noticed the pine beetle problem and other long-standing ecological perils facing the Black Hills. Throughout her tenure in Pierre, the Legislature produced only one resolution, in 2010, urging the Forest Service to do something. (Noem was apparently too busy riding the abortion hobby horse and planning her House campaign to get her name on that resolution as a co-sponsor).

So I'm curious: if the solution to pine beetles didn't involve (a) lifting federal regulations or (b) giving a prime big-business donor a pass to do more business, would she be making as much noise over this issue as she is now? Shouting "emergency!" is a good way to convince people to throw regulatory caution to the wind, but the fact that Noem only recently discovered this "emergency" might make us wonder what she's really after.

Bonus Scientific Observation: Beetle-infested swaths of forest may actually be less likely to burn than healthy forest, says NASA.