Former U.S. Forest Service employee says timber sustainability has been problem for years

Published: Mar. 23, 2021 at 6:26 PM CDT
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HILL CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Neiman Enterprises shut down their Hill City sawmill, leaving more than 100 people without a job. But how did we get to this point?

Dave Mertz, a retired U.S. Forest Service Employee, worked in the Black Hills until 2017 doing program management dealing with wildlife, water, and timber.

“When I first got here, the major issue was the mountain pine beetle epidemic, so we dealt with that for really till 2016, and then after that quite frankly it was trying to look at this timber sustainability issue,” says Mertz.

Mertz says in 2013, the U.S. Forest Service first realized there was a problem with timber sustainability. That’s when the organization started to see the impacts of things like the Jasper fire and the Mountain Pine beetles.

He says the forest has been impacted so much throughout the years that the timber industry couldn’t keep the same harvest levels.

“When we were clearly not managing a sustainable program, that means that some adjustments had to be made, and unfortunately, that probably is what led to the downsizing of this one mill in Hill City,” says Mertz.

Mertz says this downsizing won’t just affect the mill. It will also impact the Black Hills National Forest.

He says the forest service was following the law when they made their recent adjustments.

On Tuesday, Governor Kristi Noem sent out a statement saying:

“This is devastating news for the Sawmill’s employees, their families, and the Hill City community. Sadly, this could have been avoided if the federal government properly managed the Black Hills National Forest. Still, the U.S. Forest Service continues to ignore recommendations from the experts on allowable timber sales,” says Noem.

And if the restrictions on timber continue, the sawmill owner in Hill City says his other locations are at risk of closing as well.

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