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Independent Panel Stands by Recommendation to Cut Black Hills Logging by Half

In spring 2021, the USDA Forest Service issued a study calling for a 50% reduction in logging in the Black Hills to give the forest time to recover from natural and man-made stresses. The timber industry hooted and hollered for a review of that study. The USDA responded by convening a four-person independent panel to check the data. After reviewing the report and seeking clarification from the researchers, the panel concluded that four of the industry’s seven claims lacked substance while the other three can be resolved with corrections that clarify but do not rescind the researchers’ findings:

In conclusion, the independent, four-person panel carefully considered the information you provided. The panel found no compelling evidence to support your request to retract (withdraw) GTR-422, however, after full consideration and thorough review, the panel has referred the above corrective actions to the Forest Service Deputy Chief of Research and Development. The Forest Service will release an addendum, or GTR revision on the claims the panel found to be substantive. The panel thanks you for bringing your request to the Forest Service’s attention [Witne Neil, acting data quality official, letter to Ben Wudtke providing determination in response to request for reconsideration, USDA Forest Service, 2022.11.01].

The tree-cutters are trying to spin the independent review as support for their argument:

Ben Wudtke, with the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, requested the independent review of the report through the Data Quality Act challenge. He said the response corrected errors that called for a 50 percent reduction in timber sales.

“In our mind it certainly dispels the myth that’s been at the core of this discussion,” Wudke said. “We’re hopeful that the forest service can view the whole discussion, and certainly the document, in a different light. And open some doors to a different conversation on what’s really needed for a timber sale program on the Black Hills” [Lee Strubinger, “Independent Review Supports Drop in Black Hills Timber Sale,” SDPB, 2022.11.16].

But the report still says what it says: chop fewer trees!

Dave Mertz, retired Black Hills National Forest resource officer said the response did not change the substance of the report, which suggests reducing timber sale volumes.

“They pretty clearly state that that in their response that the GTR stands because the basic analysis that they did was—from their viewpoint—was correct,” Mertz said [Strubinger, 2022.11.16].

So hey, why not give the forest a break and focus for a while on straw-bale construction?


  1. larry kurtz 2022-11-21 07:08

    It’s the view of this interested party that Janice Stevenson is a scapegoat for decades of land management failures endemic to South Dakota politics and to the Republican supermajority that coddles Jim Neiman. Jim Furnish was deputy chief of the US Forest Service from 1999 to 2002 and believes all the fuel treatments in the area before the Jasper Fire were entirely ineffective in preventing the blaze. According to Todd Pechota, a retired forest fire management officer for the Black Hills National Forest who responded to the Jasper Fire, the next megafire in the Black Hills is just a matter of when. According to former BHNF timber cruiser, Dave Mertz there haven’t been any litigators to sue the Forest Service allowing Republicans to infiltrate management of the BHNF. Nearly every national forest in at least 11 western states should be remanded to the tribal nations they were seized from including the Black Hills National Forest.

    The US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management should be merged in the Department of Interior as the Forest and Land Management Service.

  2. John 2022-11-21 09:39

    “Independent” – hahahaha, they all work for and are paid by the USDA. The “process” is more like, ‘what answer do you want and we’ll get there’.
    An independent review would be more like having an association of tribal foresters review. Tribal forests are the best managed forests in the nation, bar none.

    Spend a few minutes with the pre-settlement Illingworth photos of the Black Hills sub-ecosystem. That was a relatively natural sustainable ecosystem. The pre-settlement forest was far more open, had far fewer trees. The present Smokey Bear, grow as many trees as possible ecosystem is not sustainable — so it burns, it’s afflicted by endemic pest infestations. Millions of excess trees remain in the Black Hills. In the short term, that’s good for the mills; but in the long term once (if) the forest returns to a sustainable ecosystem that will reduce the trees available for the mills while improving water quality and flows, and improve the soils, grasses, and forbes for wildlife. The Forest Service new emerging plan appears returning to the bad old days of maximum tree growing, creating tree nurseries for fire and bugs. The Forest Service manages trees, yet NEVER comes close to meeting its thinning goals. The Forest Service pays lip service to their charter to manage ecosystems comprising multiple resources and their use. Larry’s right, “The US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management should be merged in the Department of Interior as the Forest and Land Management Service.”

  3. Donald Pay 2022-11-21 10:14

    John is correct, but we have to be aware Illingworth’s photos don’t necessarily provide a statistically valid sample of the forest pre-settlement. Largely, the forest was far more open, but was it all as open as Illingworth’s photos seem to show? You have to understand Illingworth was following the easiest paths through the Hills during most of that expedition. We know there were stands of large, well-spaced Ponderosa Pine in the northern Hills that were able to escape fire and bugs for long periods.

    My view of the Forest is that is was very patchy, but tended to be more open because of natural and Indian-set fire. Where fire wasn’t reaching, bugs played a part. Where fire and bugs didn’t open the forest, it became a mature forest. It should be managed to recreate patchiness.

  4. Jake 2022-11-21 10:25

    Cory, the answer to your last question you post simply is “There’s NO profit in straw bale construction” for the lumber mills in the Black Hills that in he past ten years spent millions on computerizing them into “super-efficient’ factories to make lumber. The Nieman mills are capable of processing way more trees than the Black Hills Forest can provide.

    Hence, then, comes the GOP “Hue and Cry” mantra against ‘big government’ “over regulation” preventing business from reaping more profit from the socialistic policy of protecting our national treasures from business over-use and depletion.

    Socialism=conservatism’s ultimate goal. Wealth and industry in control of only a few; for their ultimate good!

  5. All Mammal 2022-11-21 10:43

    Since I was a kid, I never understood how someone could claim a whole category of nature as theirs and get rich off it. The Good Earth made it for everyone to share. She made it FOR FREE. So it blew my mind how Pete Lien owned all the lime and Chiquita owned all the bananas. They’re free, guys. You’re not producing or building anything. You’re just raping the Good Earth for profit. And never sharing that profit. It goes against the laws of nature, of the universe. And we all pay for the destruction greed causes. Everything comes out of her backside. Everything we have is mined or grown from her backside. Create something on your own to sell and get rich.

  6. sx123 2022-11-21 11:09

    Do banks give out mortgages for straw bale houses? What are the insurance rates (are they insurable?)
    Or just skip the straw: build sod houses like we’re pioneers back in the 1800s!
    Better yet, heed the warning of The 3 Little Pigs and build stuff that lasts, out of concrete, stone, brick, and steel instead of straw or wood.

  7. P. Aitch 2022-11-21 13:57

    USDA’s scientific decision is another example of how precious the Federal government is, with its ability to regulate our free market and regulate environmental destruction by South Dakota’s logging greedsters.

    Our faith in liberty does not rest on the foreseeable negative results in an unregulated free market but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad.

  8. Arlo Blundt 2022-11-21 14:46

    Sod houses have a romance to them but were actually pretty miserable to live in and required regular maintenance just to keep standing. There is a “packed earth” technology that had some value. I believe the school in White River was a “packed earth” school. I suggest we follow the advice of the scientists when it comes to logging in the Hills.

  9. larry kurtz 2022-11-21 15:35

    Ponderosa pine sucks billions of gallons from aquifer recharges, needles absorb heat and accelerate snow melt while aspen leaves reflect sunlight in the summer months and hold snowpacks in winter. Insects like the mountain pine beetle and spruce bud worm can help promote drought- and fire-tolerant species like aspen.

    Dense stands of water-sucking, heat island-creating ponderosa pine concentrate volatile organic compounds or VOCs that become explosive under hot and dry conditions. The aerosols are like charcoal starter fumes just waiting for a spark.

    The Black Hills National Forest hasn’t been a wild thing since 1899 and Case Number One near Nemo. The Island in the Plains has been broken for decades but the collapse of select Black Hills ecosystems has been evident since at least 2002.

    Add the very high number of private inholdings within the Black Hills National Forest that make the wildland urban interface (WUI) very large to one of the highest road densities in the entire national forest system and Region 2 to lots of logging, hardrock mining and pesticides then understand why over a hundred species in South Dakota alone and a million worldwide are at risk to the Republican Party.

  10. Mark Anderson 2022-11-21 20:27

    You know sx123, our concrete house outlasted the wind blows of Hurricane Ian. Straw wouldn’t have, many wood houses didn’t either. The worst was all those thin metal houses that people from the north like to retire too.

  11. larry kurtz 2022-12-03 15:19

    Since there’s no credible response to the plight of the Black Hills National Forest at Pat’s Pissoir DFP will have to do.

    One need look no further than the Black Hills National Forest for how politics has completely altered a landscape but there are plenty other public lands examples that illustrate the red state, blue state divide. Here in New Mexico public comments on the fireshed and forest plan will look way different than how they’ll read in my home state of South Dakota and in the Wyoming Black Hills.

    Overstory removal can work because conscientious land managers have learned that where fire is introduced after mechanical harvest emerging aspen and other hardwoods add biodiversity necessary to healthy ecosystems while sequestering carbon.

    Every watershed on the BHNF is at grave risk. Preserve the mature, old growth and legacy pine by saving them from the Neimans, clear cut without building new roads especially where doghair chokes aspen, birch or hazelnut and burn, baby, burn.

  12. larry kurtz 2022-12-03 16:55

    Nearly every national forest in at least 11 western states should be remanded to the tribal nations they were seized from including the Black Hills National Forest.

  13. larry kurtz 2022-12-03 17:17

    In 1874 when the Custer Expedition came through the Black Hills bringing invasive cheatgrass for their horses stands of ponderosa pine were sparsely scattered but a century and a half of poor ranching and land management practices have created an unnatural overstory best controlled by the mountain pine beetle, prescribed fires and periodic wildfires. After a century of destructive agricultural practices exotic grasses infest most of western South Dakota.

  14. grudznick 2022-12-03 17:18

    Don’t forget the Custer National Forest, Lar. Let us start with that one, They should start with the South Cave Hills, and see how that goes, before moving on to the other pieces.

  15. larry kurtz 2022-12-03 18:49

    Burning West River to the ground can’t happen fast enough. Over a hundred native species in South Dakota are at risk to the Republican Party including the endangered pallid sturgeon, paddlefish, black footed ferret, northern long-eared bat, the black-backed woodpecker that feeds on bark beetles and a bird that actually walks underwater – the American dipper, just to name a few. Threatened by the increased conversion of native prairie to cropland the most endangered plant in the chemical toilet that is South Dakota is the white-fringed orchid (Platanthera praeclara) found mainly in tallgrass prairies west of the Mississippi River.

  16. larry kurtz 2022-12-03 18:53

    Mrs. Noem’s pronouncements to the USDA are political posturing meant to whitewash South Dakota’s moral hazards disguised as self-reliance and nothing more.

  17. P. Aitch 2022-12-03 20:07

    When I was lumberjacking in the Hills in 1975 all we could cut were “redtops”. Dead trees of a specific diameter trunk. We sold them to Whitewood Post & Pole.

  18. larry kurtz 2022-12-05 18:24

    Lee Schoenbeck is over at Pat’s Pissoir declaring that forest policy is complex without any apparent understanding of the politics. Isn’t his cabin in the Hills surrounded by dead fuels just waiting for a spark?

  19. All Mammal 2022-12-05 20:28

    Mr. Kurtz- Mr. Shoenbeck shows his ignorant and troubling understanding of The People he SERVES when he commented on DWC, “ …The public gets a protected forest for free (actually gets paid to have a better forest)…” For free?! Who gets paid to have a better forest? Who tf does he think pays for the forest services? Who compensates him handsomely for working to the bone everyday for us? Sure doesn’t come from thin air “for free”. Man, that contemptuous way of thinking about the people of South Dakota aka the taxpayer, aka his BOSSES, is a problem.

  20. larry kurtz 2022-12-06 07:29

    Indeed, DU. Neiman is hosting an open house and career day at their Spearditch sawmill next week because workers are fleeing my home state. It’s entirely likely Neiman refuses to pay competitive wages but chooses to blame others for worker shortages instead. There are far, far better life choices than working in a sawmill for ten years let alone living in states where workers are commodities. Neiman bought mills in blue states Colorado and Oregon that expanded Medicaid, so go figure.

    According to a 2013 Argonne National Lab study the Black Hills National Forest is highly suitable for biochar harvest. But, as Jim Neiman mulls the shuttering of another sawmill other mill owners are converting the kilns that dry lumber to biochar production.

  21. All Mammal 2022-12-06 11:16

    Imagination and creativity are a superior survival skill and evolution favors plasticity. Neiman doesn’t seem to have the ability to diversify in order to survive. We move forward with more agility once ancient barnacle cling-ons let go.

    Maybe Mr. Newland and Mr. Grudznick might wanna hop in with me for a little ride to career day in the Northern Hills to take notes for comparison with yours on the old BH sawmill industry… haha

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