Neiman announces cutbacks at Spearfish, Hulett sawmills
RAPID CITY, S.D. — A local forest products company has announced they are reducing hours at their mills in response to a lack of available timber in the Black Hills National Forest.
Hulett-based Neiman Enterprises made the announcement to their employees at the Hulett (Devils Tower Forest Products) and Spearfish (Spearfish Forest Products) sawmills at 4:00 Thursday afternoon.
The reduction in hours will eliminate a shift at the Hulett site and reduce work hours in Spearfish.
Sonja Merryman, the company’s community relations director, said, “Neiman Enterprises is committed to our employees, communities, and this forest, which is why we are keeping all employees on the payroll despite the reduction in milling.”
The announcement comes about a year after they closed their sawmill in Hill City (Rushmore Forest Products) because of a timber shortage.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, company president Jim Neiman says they’re still working with the U.S. Forest Service and other partners, despite their disagreement with the reduced timber harvest.
A 2021 report by the U.S. Forest Service states that the current live saw-timber volume doesn’t support a long-term sustainable timber supply if harvests continue at the 181,000 ccf allowable sale quantity. (1 ccf = 100 cubic feet)
South Dakota Senator John Thune is one of the many legislators who have spoken out against the Forest Service’s reduction plan.
Sen. Thune told NewsCenter1:
“For years, I have pressed the U.S. Forest Service to collaboratively develop a plan that balances the needs of the Black Hills National Forest’s management and the forest products industry, which plays a critical role in supporting forest health and the regional economy,” Sen. Thune said. “It’s clear that the Forest Service does not have a plan for turning around the trend of mill closures, and if the agency doesn’t find a way to make more timber available, the forest products industry will soon be gone. Through its inaction, the Forest Service is systematically dismantling the forest products industry. As we’ve seen in other parts of the country, once milling infrastructure is gone, it’s nearly impossible to bring it back, and forests face increased risk of catastrophic wildfires, like those that have decimated millions of acres in recent years. The Forest Service needs to acknowledge what is happening to the industry in the Black Hills and come up with a responsible plan to address it immediately. We cannot sustain additional mill closures or reductions in milling capacity.I am calling on the Forest Service to provide local officials with the staff and tools necessary to achieve everyone’s shared goal of maintaining the health of the forest before it’s too late.”
South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson said:
“Neimans has been a faithful partner with the Forest Service for years. These reductions risk the longevity of South Dakota’s sawmills. When mills go away – or in this case reduce hours – these workers have to find other jobs. These jobs are niche – these workers don’t just come back when forest management becomes necessary again when we see an uptick in fires and bug outbreaks. A managed forest is a healthy forest.”
Opponents say a reduction in timber harvest sets the forest up for potentially deadly wildfires and other epidemics like that of the mountain pine beetle. Their concern goes further, saying a devastating fire would likely impact tourism in the region – South Dakota’s second-largest industry.
Merryman said, “These mills are critical green infrastructure that is essential for the health and resilience of the Black Hills,” adding that the reduction in timber supply is believed to be temporary.