The Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic in the Black Hills, South Dakota: The Consequences of Long Term Fire Policy, Climate Change and the Use of Remote Sensing to Enhance Mitigation

Kyle Mullen, Fei Yuan, Martin Mitchell


The recent and intense outbreak (first decade of 2000s) of the mountain pine beetle in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming, which impacted over 33% of the 1.2 million acre (486,000 ha) Black Hills National Forest, illustrates what can occur when forest management practices intersect with natural climatic oscillations and climate change to create the “perfect storm” in a region where the physical environment sets the stage for a plethora of economic activities ranging from extractive industries to tourism. This study evaluates the potential of WorldView-2 satellite imagery for green-attacked tree detection in the ponderosa pine forest of the Black Hills, USA. It also discusses the consequences of long term fire policy and climate change, and the use of remote sensing technology to enhance mitigation. It was found that the near-infrared one (band 7) of WorldView-2 imagery had the highest influence on the green-attack classification. The Random Forest classification produced the best results when transferred to the independent dataset, whereas the Logistic Regression models consistently yielded the highest accuracies when cross-validated with the training data. Lessons learned include: (1) utilizing recent advances in remote sensing technologies, most notably the use of WorldView-2 data, to assist in more effectively implementing mitigation measures during an epidemic, and (2) implementing pre-emptive thinning strategies; both of which can be applied elsewhere in the American West to more effectively blunt or preclude the consequences of a mountain pine beetle outbreak on an existing ponderosa pine forest. 

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Copyright (c) 2018 Kyle Mullen, Fei Yuan, Martin Mitchell

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Journal of Geography and Geology   ISSN 1916-9779 (Print)   ISSN 1916-9787 (Online)  Email:

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