A Black Hills area forest products company is having to cut back due to a lack of timber
Neiman Enterprises, which owns sawmill facilities in four states, has eliminated a shift at their Hulett mill and has reduced the number of employee hours at their Spearfish, South Dakota facility as a result of a reduction in timber available for commercial operations. This comes just a year after they were forced to close their Hill City, South Dakota facility for the same reasons. Around 100 jobs were affected and only a few were able to transition to their Spearfish operation.
“We do believe that it’s really critical not only for the company but for the forest to keep all employees,” said Sonja Merryman, spokeswoman for Neiman Enterprises. “We’re figuring out different options, adjusting and adapting jobs accordingly to be able to keep all employees on payroll.”
Approximately 250 employees at both locations are impacted by the decision. That number rises to around 280 when contractors are added into the equation. Employees will keep the same hours and pay, she said.
Most of the timber that is used in the Hulett and Spearfish mills is harvested in the Black Hills National Forest and is sold by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) each year. But a desire to “achieve the desired condition of the landscape” has led the agency to limit the amount of timber for each sale. This is slated to last for several years under the USFS current forest plan. A limited amount of timber is trucked in for use in these facilities, but high fuel costs have posed challenges for the trucking companies that the company contracts with. They’re still figuring out the details of the reductions and what any possible changes to jobs and tasks may consist of, which could come by mid-to-late August, Merryman said.
Neiman Enterprises has been involved in the forest products industry since they opened their first sawmill location near Upton in 1936. This facility later burned down, and operations were moved to rural Crook County, though this location made finding employees difficult due to its isolated setting. This led to another relocation to its current site on the southwest side of Hulett, Merryman said, where it’s a major employer and economic driver for the area.
The company later acquired additional locations, including the Spearfish mill in 2008 after its former owner, a Canadian company, went bankrupt. Facilities in Montrose, Colorado and Gilchrist, Oregon were acquired in the last 15 years. These two operations employ around 260 workers and aren’t affected by cuts to commercial timber releases.
“We just firmly believe that the forest needs both of the mills running at full capacity,” Merryman added. “We believe that’s what’s best for the health of the forest, so we’re committed to working with all stakeholders and the Forest Service to figure out what is best for the Black Hills and making sure that it is fire resilient."