A citizen group that advises the forest supervisor in the Black Hills could soon be re-chartered after several months in bureaucratic limbo.
The group is the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board. Scott Jacobson, a public affairs officer for the Forest Service, said he submitted a renewal request for the board's charter in March, four months ahead of the charter's expiration in July. Jacobson said the charter expires every two years, as dictated by federal law.
The renewal request went to the national office of the Forest Service in Washington, D.C., where it began wending its way up to the secretary of agriculture, who finally signed the charter on Oct. 22, Jacobson said.
But because the signature came after the expiration of the charter, a notice must be posted in the federal register regarding the charter’s re-establishment. That notice is scheduled for posting today, which will kick off a 15-day waiting period before the charter becomes effective.
“So we’re just in a holding pattern waiting for that to happen,” Jacobson said.
The board typically does not meet in December. Jacobson hopes the charter will be effective in time for a January meeting.
He has received little to no explanation for the delay, he said, but he speculated it might be related to turnover in the office of the undersecretary for natural resources and environment, which supervises the Forest Service for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A new undersecretary, Jim Hubbard, took his oath of office in September after being nominated by President Trump in April and confirmed by the Senate in August.
Jacobson said the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board is one of two such national forest advisory boards in the nation. He said the other one advises the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and Maine.
The Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board was formed in 2003 following a period of tumult in the Black Hills when legal battles temporarily shut down the timber industry, Jacobson said.
The board was formed to bring together people from a broad range of industries and interest groups, including loggers, environmentalists, recreational enthusiasts, ranchers, tribal members and others. At board meetings, members discuss forest issues, receive information from forest employees, and make recommendations to the supervisor about the management of the forest.
There are 16 primary members of the board and another 16 alternates. Jacobson said the current members were appointed in June, just prior to the expiration of the charter, and are still considered members in good standing.
“Essentially what’s going on is now their clock is ticking as members,” Jacobson said. “By January, they’ll be seven months into their two-year terms before they can even participate in official meetings.”
Board members participated in a field trip in August and informal meetings in September and October, he said, plus another informal meeting Wednesday. Because the board does not have an approved charter, it merely received information at the meetings and did not keep any minutes or conduct any votes, Jacobson said.
The eighth-graders filed out of the Western Dakota Tech classroom with a slide projecting the minimum wage at a fast-food chain frozen on the screen. The presenter, Amanda Dokter, human resources manager for Rapid City-based accounting firm Ketel Thorstenson, had just finished a PowerPoint called "How to Get a Job and Keep It."
"We're not going to hire an eighth-grader as a CPA," Dokter said. "But we do like to help the local school district develop tomorrow's business community through their pathway partnerships."
Last year, the Rapid City Area Schools announced new pathways for high school students, orienting themselves on career preparation curriculum trajectories at younger ages. The fast-food wage, Dokter said, came up during a trivia question-and-answer for the students.
"It's a viable job that pays more than minimum wage," she said. "Plus, we got to keep the kids entertained."
On Wednesday, the city's eighth-graders attended the second annual College & Career Exploration Fair at WDT, cycling between breakout sessions and a booth. In the activity center, local businesses from Regional Health (complete with sim patients and stethoscopes) to Convicted Designs Tattoo & Piercing to the South Dakota State University Agriculture College with a full cow stomach on display wowed and wooed kids.
Adam Daigle, a 14-year journeyman electrician now serving as marketing director for West River Electric Association, had candy, pens and an infrared camera at his booth.
"What do you do?" asked Brettly Schmitz, an eighth-grader at Southwest Middle School.
"We sell electricity," Daigle said.
"What does this do?" she asked.
"It is heat-seeking," Daigle said. "We fly them up and down the power lines."
All over the room, students engaged with questions they normally don't get to ask in the classroom. Jill Wilgers, a registered nurse with Regional Health, at first shook her head at the notion of eight-graders seriously considering careers. She tried out biology and English as majors in college before settling on health.
"My grandma was a nurse," Wilgers said. "She reined me in."
Gov. Daugaard's education agenda has pushed trades and apprenticeships, and the outgoing governor has spoken at recent meetings of the Western Governors Association about career preparation at younger ages. In a recent interview with the Journal, Governor-elect Kristi Noem said her son, a high school student, has gone on job-shadowing trips to a business in Watertown, a professional mindset she wants to see start in high school — or even earlier.
"I've dreamed about being a cop since kindergarten," said Nadiad Shott, an eighth-grader at South Middle School, who traipsed booth to booth with her friends, Jade White Calf, Ariana Standing Bear and Sheena Rodriguez. Both White Calf and Standing Bear said they wanted to be actors. Rodriguez?
"Construction," said Rodriguez, pantomiming like she was pounding a hammer. "You just got to use your hands." Rodriguez said her brother, a construction worker, told her how much money she can earn. "He got strong, too."
Near the doorway, Christine Therkildsen of Trades Academy — a plumbing, HVAC, and fire protection apprentice program based in South Dakota — showed the thick stack of sign-ups she'd received. Practically speaking, these conversations at younger ages can be difficult, Therkildsen acknowledged.
"I've got a senior in high school," she said.
Fixing down a lifetime career by age 16 can be a tall order, but Therkildsen said that isn't the primary goal of Wednesday's event.
"Many students don't know apprenticeships are an option beyond four-year, tech school, or military," she said. "So we're just trying to make them aware that there are other ways to go about getting into a job you love."
It's the season to spread holiday cheer far and near. Whether filling a shoe box with gifts, attending a concert or giving to a toy drive, special events in the Black Hills are in full swing to benefit those in need.
This week, the push is on to gather shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. This is the official collection week for Operation Christmas Child, a project of international ministry Samaritan’s Purse.
Now in its 25th year, Operation Christmas Child is an annual campaign to collect shoe boxes filled with small toys, school supplies and hygiene items for children overseas. Operation Christmas Child has given shoe boxes to children in 167 countries and territories.
On Monday night, 30 women brought hundreds of supplies for a packing party at Dove Christian Center, the official collection site for Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes in Rapid City.
“This is our third year as an official drop-off site,” said Nancy Morrison, children’s pastor and collections center coordinator for Dove Christian Center. “As of Wednesday night, we had 1,042 boxes, which is a little ahead of our (usual) number, so we’re very excited about that.”
Dove Christian Center members typically fill between 100 and 200 boxes, Morrison said. Many women who attended the packing party had already filled boxes with their families. They pooled their extra school supplies, soap, washcloths, toothbrushes, combs and brushes, hair ties, clothing, socks, crayons, markers, stuffed animals, small craft items and more, and were able to fill another 42 boxes, she said.
People from the community and other churches have been donating steadily all week, Morrison said, noting that after-school hours have been a popular time for parents and children to drop off shoe boxes.
“Every single box is very much appreciated,” Morrison said. “We’re really honored and blessed to be a part of it and it’s great fun every year. Certainly our entire church enjoys being part of it.”
Many churches in the Black Hills participate in Operation Christmas Child and will be collecting shoe boxes on Sunday. Each community also has an official collection site; anyone who wants to participate can bring filled shoe boxes to those locations through Monday.
Each box needs to include a $9 donation, a label indicating the age of the child for which the box is appropriate, and whether the box is for a boy or girl.
Rapid City typically collects between 2,000 and 3,000 shoe boxes each year; Spearfish collects about 1,600, Morrison said. Altogether, western South Dakota communities donate about 7,000 shoe boxes every year. Operation Christmas Child has a goal to distribute 11 million shoe boxes this year.
Giving closer to home
Whether you can sponsor an entire family’s holiday dinner or give something as simple as a pair of socks, there are lots of ways to help this time of year. Check with your favorite local charity, school, church or organization to find out how you can make the holidays brighter for a child, senior citizen or family in need. Meanwhile, some special events are planned to benefit children and families in the Black Hills.
Concert, silent auction
A concert by Bella Voce will highlight the annual Holiday Salute Benefit Concert and Silent Auction on Sunday. This fundraiser will be at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 717 Quincy St., Rapid City. The event benefits Church Response Community Pantry.
A silent auction and bake sale begin at 1 p.m. Gift certificates, décor, quilts, handmade items and jewelry from local merchants will be included in the silent auction. Baked goods and lefse will be available to purchase. A painting, an original work of art, will be raffled. Raffle tickets can be purchased the day of the event.
The holiday concert by Bella Voce, a local women’s ensemble, begins at 2 p.m.
The final opportunity to bid on silent auction items and the raffle drawing for the painting will be at 3 p.m.
Church Response has served Rapid City for 46 years. The nonprofit organization provides food and other temporary assistance to those who are struggling because of financial setbacks or illness. Church Response aids between 200 and 250 families every week, including about 400 children.
Newell Festival of Trees
The Newell Annual Festival of Trees begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, at Newell City Hall. Admission is two cans of non-perishable food per person to benefit the food pantry. Tree preview 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Complimentary lunch 11:30 a.m. Holiday festivities including a visit from Santa, crafts, games and a bike giveaway start at 2 p.m. Special music and Hee Haw live entertainment from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tree auction starts at 4 p.m. Erk Ranch Deer Hunt and Smeenk Ranch Antelope Hunt auctions and a live band and dancing will be from 8 p.m. to midnight. Proceeds from auctions benefit Newell Fire Department and Ambulance.
Toys for Tots
Through Dec. 6, the 2018 Toys for Tots Campaign in the Black Hills is accepting donations of new, unwrapped toys. This year, the goal is to collect 20,000 toys. For a list of locations where toys can be dropped off, go to rapidcity-sd.toysfortots.org, then click on Ways to Donate, Toy Drop-Off Sites.
Holiday Jam with the Hegg Brothers will be at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City, 601 Columbus St. This concert features Christmas classics, contemporary arrangements and the soulful sounds of Jeremy and Jon Hegg, with an ensemble of horns, saxophones, piano, guitar and percussion. Enjoy stories of the season, messages for the heart and music to lift your spirits. Tickets are $25 in advance; $30 at the door. Proceeds benefit LifeScape, an organization that provides highly specialized therapy services for children in Rapid City.
The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has voted to award the operating contract for Pine Ridge's sole grocery store to Buche Foods, replacing a company that has run the Sioux Nation Shopping Center since it opened 50 years ago.
When Buche Foods opens for business in Pine Ridge, it will have four grocery stores in the state. Mission, Wagner and Gregory are the locations of the others, according to its website.
"It just seemed like a real good fit for us," RF Buche, president of Buche Foods, said in a phone interview.
He said the company operates on the Rosebud Reservation and has been interested in bringing its services to Pine Ridge for several years. The company also has convenience stores — called Gus Stops — in Lake Andes, White River, Wagner and Mission. The business was started by Gus Buche, the great-grandfather of RF Buche, in 1905 in Lake Andes.
The tribal council voted 10-4 on Nov. 9 to award the new contract, said Richard Greenwald, a representative for the Pine Ridge District.
The vote was about whether to award the contract to Buche Foods or Hi-Way 20, the current operator of the Sioux Nation grocery store whose lease is set to expire, Greenwald said.
"They just wanted to give somebody the opportunity to produce something better for the people," he said of the tribal council's vote.
Greenwald said he voted to retain Hi-Way 20 after receiving a petition with 2,000 signatures from his district that supported the business.
"I'm OK with Buche trying something different, but at the time I had to go with my district," he said.
Buche said he's not sure if the store will continue to be called Sioux Nation. He said he'd like to incorporate "Buche Foods" into the name while also making it clear that the store serves the Lakota people. It's "their store," he said.
Buche Foods is set to take over operations Dec. 31. Sioux Nation should remain open during the transition, but if it can't, Buche Foods will provide free transportation to a nearby town so residents can buy groceries, the company said on pineridgeanswers.com.
Buche Foods has hosted events on the reservation so people could learn about the company and how the transition will work.
All employees will keep their jobs and current hours, the website says. The company suggests it will offer lower prices than the previous operator and that it would like to open more stores on the reservation. It says it will donate to the local community and stock organic, natural and local food and produce.
Aaron Cohn, CEO of Hi-Way 20, said his father opened the grocery store 50 years ago.
"The tribe just decided to go in a different direction," he said of the vote.
He said he hopes to open a grocery store elsewhere on the reservation after receiving support from local residents. "The community wants us to," he said.
Sioux Nation was temporarily shut down by the tribe in 2012 after an Indian Health Service inspection revealed 11 “critical” violations in the meat department, including employees mixing spoiled hamburger with fresh hamburger and repackaging it for sale. It re-opened after the problems were addressed.