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Independent review supports drop in Black Hills timber sale

Black Hills.jpg
Lee Strubinger
Two different stands of trees in the Black Hills National Forest just west of Rapid City. Trees to the right have been logged recently. The thick stand to the right has not.

An independent review confirms a report calling for reduced timber sales in the Black Hills National Forest.

The review came after the report was challenged by members of the timber industry.

The 2021 General Technical Report (GTR) from forest service researchers says based on existing timber inventory, current harvest levels are too high.

The USDA recently released its response to a challenge to the report, which sought some clarification, but not enough to withdraw its recommendation.

Ben Wudke, 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.”

Wudke and others in the timber industry worry continued timber sale reductions will force more Black Hills mills to close.

Decades of disturbances—from mountain pine beetle infestations to wildfires—have decreased the available timber suitable for lumber. The 2021 report says time is needed for inventory to grow.

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.

The Black Hills National Forest reduced timber sale volumes by 20 percent from last year. The Black Hills National Forest is in the process of revising is forest plan for the first time since 1997.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.