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Timber companies concerned over mill closure

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 4:45 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - The decision to shut down the Neiman Enterprises sawmill in Hill City has the timber industry worried. Not only by the loss of jobs but what this could mean for forest management.

With the decision to shut down the Hill City sawmill on Monday, Neiman Enterprises cited the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to reduce timber sales. The company says there isn’t enough timber available in the Black Hills to keep the mill open.

Alan Aker, the owner of Aker Woods Company which has several locations in the hills, said that this lack of timber is due to decades of forest mismanagement that resulted in wildfires and the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation.

“That pine beetle wiped out about one-third of the timber growing in the forest in the Black Hills, and so it’s been impossible for the Forest Service to sell enough trees to keep all these mills going,” Aker said. “But, in the long run, we’re going to have this problem again.”

Aker said that the key to a healthy forest is keeping up with thinning and selling enough timber to prevent the beetle from returning, or a catastrophic fire from starting.

He adds that thinning smaller trees could help other trees grow, and eventually provide enough timber to keep the forest healthy in the future.

“It’s very labor-intensive work and very hard work, but it’s good to work, and I think there are Americans who want to do that kind of work, and it’s ultimately going to be up to the federal government to really invest in our forest,” Aker said.

Aker said that more work is going to have to be done over the next decade to thin those smaller trees.

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