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  • David Azadi Scott, NewsCenter1

Layoffs at Spearfish sawmill prompts strong response from officials

SPEARFISH, S.D. – The Neiman Enterprises sawmill in Spearfish announced Thursday that it would be cutting 50 positions and reducing production at its last facility in the state.

Neiman Enterprises points to reductions at the Black Hills National Forest timber sale program as the reason for the layoffs. Government officials, at all levels, are responding.

Spearfish Mayor John Senden said, “Obviously the first impact is to those families that are facing this impact of loss of jobs. So our hearts go out to them. Certainly also to the Neiman family having to make this decision.”

Senden says lower production has the potential for effects far outside of the timber industry. He pointed to higher fire danger and the resurgence of pine beetles in the Morthern Hills as areas of concern.

District 34 Rep. Mike Derby agreed and says there is risk for a large fire with damage comparable to recent fires in Colorado and California.  He adds there is a lot of frustration when actual timber sales come in below expectations.

Derby said, “We're promised certain levels and then they come in at half or a small percentage of it. So the industry can't even plan on the numbers that they're told to come to fruition and – running a business –  it's almost impossible to be profitable and have your staff fully running at times.”

South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson said timber sales go beyond their economic impact and says some areas of the hills need their forests reduced, adding, “We don't have timber sales to create jobs alone. We have timber sales in large part because that's what's good for the forest. That's what keeps it healthy. We know that the inventories are higher today – substantially higher than they were in the 1970s or the 1980s. We know there is timber out there. There are areas that need to be treated.”

Sen. John Thune pointed to the environmental impact of large fires as counterproductive to the Biden administration's focus on environmental protection – but says the most immediate concern is the impact on people.

Sen. Thune said, “The thing that's most immediately in front of us is jobs. It has a tremendous economic impact. There are a lot of people in the Black Hills who rely on the forest industry and a timber harvest for their jobs and for their livelihood.”

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