Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

Lawmakers want more local involvement in BH National Forest, asks Department of Ag & Natural Resources to lead the way

U.S. Forest Service
Black Hills National Forest

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota lawmakers want to pass legislation aimed at protecting the Black Hills.

SB 21 would create a full-time position within the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources who would be tasked with working with “forest stakeholders” to “manage the Black Hills National Forest.”

South Dakota lawmakers want to see more involvement from local stakeholders in protecting the Black Hills National Forest.

Senate Bill 21 is intended to bring the five counties in western South Dakota to the table for the resource management plan for the forest. The bill would create a full-time position in the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources tasked with coordination between local, state and federal stakeholders to figure out the best management plan for the forest.

The recent forest plan revision, which is being updated for the first time since 2006, has come under scrutiny by local and state officials in both Wyoming and South Dakota who have concerns over the timber program and fire management.

In a December 2022 letter to Black Hills Forest Supervisor, Jeff Tomac, Governors Kristi Noem and Mark Gordon (Wyoming) wrote: “We request that the Forest Service produce another set of draft assessments with a public comment period, that those assessments include citations for factual statements, and that they contain discussion of why one authority was relied upon over another.”

The letter was prompted by the decline of timber mills in the Black Hills.

“The mills in our region are critical infrastructure, and our states have already experienced several mill closures,” wrote Noem. “We have seen the ramifications in other states after they lost their mill infrastructure and we do not want to suffer similar fates.

The governors claim the Forest Service used flawed statements “not backed by scientific material” in its revisions. They pointed to what they believe are errors in analysis and assumptions in timber sustainability

Senator Randy Diebert  of Spearfish, S.D., who is also a Lawrence County Commissioner, is helping in the effort.  He says that proper forest management reduces wildfire, reduces insect infestations and when properly managed, reduces the chance of wildfires. And that the timber industry is a key tool in forest management

Lawmakers on the Senate’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee already voted unanimously to pass SB 21 on to the appropriations committee.

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