HILL CITY, S.D. — Workers at the Hill City Sawmill voicing their concern and frustrations Tuesday to Representative Dusty Johnson and the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee.
Employees of the sawmill, some who have been working since high school are now searching for answers.
“I’m not nearly old enough to retire but I’m old enough to where people aren’t knocking on my door either,” Dane Pennel, who’s worked for Rushmore Forest Products for the last 23-years.
Johnson and Representative Bruce Westerman spoke with workers about the closure and a new forest service report on the health of the Black Hills National Forest, recently released by the u.S. Forest service.
Westerman saying that this shouldn’t be the only report to base the timber harvest program on.
“There’s no doubt there’s been insect infestation and mortality and you’ll continue to see that if we don’t get some management on it, but I don’t think we can just take one report at one point in time and say ‘that this is the gospel truth of what’s going on’,” Westerman said. “I think there’s more to the story.”
Jim Neiman, the owner, saying that if timber harvest levels aren’t restored to their previous levels, more closures are sure to follow.
Leaving behind a lasting effect on communities like Hill City.
“(If) we shut down Hulett or Spearfish, what is the domino effect?” Neiman said. “Where is Dakota Panel, 300 plus more jobs in Rapid City? That could end up all three mills if that happens. This domino effect would be devastating.”
Governor Noem, in talks with the forest service and working with them in the past, says innovation with the current regulations will be a key component of solving the issue with timber harvest.
“If there’s a new tool that the forest service can utilize that can partner with the state of South Dakota, we’re all in,” Noem said.
Johnson agreed, saying that everyone needs to keep an open mind in negotiations.
“Every single person wants to make sure that what we do, we do in a sustainable way, I just think there’s an interest in making sure that we’re as innovative and as flexible as we can be so let’s be innovative,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said that talks with the Forest Service included looking at ways to coordinating its budget around “ridged” laws and and rules, which will allow it to be more opportunistic. He said that it’s difficult for the Forest Service to complete National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) policies that due to staffing issues and that the Forest Service is looking into new areas to cut, which aren’t easy to access.