Forest Service lending Mother Nature a hand in Jasper burn area

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CUSTER, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- The Jasper Fire in the Southern Hills in 2000 was the largest blaze in Black Hills recorded history. And now the largest reforestation project in Black Hills History as the Forest Service is helping Mother Nature regenerate the forest.

Crews working for working for the Forest Service are out harvesting pine cones from the within the Jasper burn area.

They gather the cones, which contain the seeds for the trees and bring them to a collection point for transfer to a nursery that will grow the seeds into seedlings for planting back in the Hills. In this environment, Mother Nature needs a hand.

"The Southern Hills where the fire was is in more of the rockier ground and (the trees) just are not coming back," said Timothy Gilg from the U.S. Forest Service. "The seed source got burned up in the fire. The trees got burned up so we have very little regeneration. And for some reason the soil's not right. It's just not coming back very well."

And so the collection of cones. The goal is to collect the cones -- and the seeds -- from the same area the seedlings will get planted.
"We want to get the cones as close to the Jasper as we can," said Gilg. "The seedling grows better when the seed is from right where the tree's going to be planted."

The cones are trucked south to a Forest Service nursery in Nebraska where the seeds are grown into little saplings to be planted in the Jasper burn area in the spring.

And slowly, over decades, transform the landscape.

"We're just trying to get a seed source back on the landscape," said Nancy Bayne from the Forest Service.

And they're in it for the long haul.

"Jasper started in 2000 and I was there when the fire started, fighting fires," said Gilg. "And 18 years later I'm still on the Jasper planting trees for it. So it's a long process."