Why is Neiman Enterprises shutting down its sawmill in Hill City? Permit me to suggest that climate change has reduced the level of sustainable timber harvest in the burning and beetled Black Hills:
[Retired U.S. Forest Service employee Dave] Mertz says in 2013 the U.S. Forest Service first realized there was a problem with timber sustainability, that’s when the organization was starting to see the impacts of things like the Jasper fire and the Mountain Pine beetles.
He goes on to say 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 [Connor Matteson, “Former U.S. Forest Service Employee Says Timber Sustainability Has Been a Problem for Years,” KEVN-TV, 2021.03.23].
Climate change boosts pine beetle infestations. Climate change extends the wildfire season. Governor Noem is crying that the closure is due to bad government action, and she’s almost right: the closing of the Hill City sawmill is one logical outcome of embracing Trumpist anti-environmental policies that ultimate burn down South Dakota’s economy. (The Queen of Cognitive Dissonance is simultaneously fighting for more fireworks in the flammable forest this summer.)
Part of the problem is also a failure of capitalism: Neiman Enterprises has built its fortunes on harvesting public resources instead of building a business model on private capital. “…[W]e rely on the Forest Service for approximately 80% of our supply,” says CEO Jim Neiman. Gee, if your business relies on the government for 80% of its supply, you’re more socialist than capitalist. If lumber companies can’t make a living farming the government’s forests, maybe they should follow the example of the rest of South Dakota’s farmers: buy your own land, plant your own crop, and harvest your own yield however you see fit (and then collect government checks from your sister-in-law the Governor). And if trees won’t grow fast enough, maybe consider investing in grass (or wheat, rice, rye, oats…) for straw bale construction.
Hill City will suffer from the loss of 120 jobs. But such losses are the inevitable result of reckless and rapacious public policy that fails to take environmental sustainability seriously. Maybe Senators Thune and Rounds can get the Senate off its duff and pass President Biden’s infrastructure bill to put those sawmillers to work building wind turbines and electric car-charging stations.