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Timber harvest needs to be reduced to sustain Black Hills National Forest, scientists say
  • Updated

Sustainability of one of the nation's most vibrant forests through proper timber harvesting and management, while balancing the ecological needs of the Black Hills, was the focus of a meeting Wednesday morning with a group of scientists and residents.

The USDA Forest Service Research and Development Rocky Mountain Research Station held a webinar to explain its findings on the health of ponderosa pine trees in the Black Hills National Forest. The meeting follows the March 23 public release of a new report, where scientists recommended a 50% to 60% reduction in timber production over the next several decades.

The report recommends dropping the current level of harvesting 181,000 CCF (100 cubic feet) of ponderosa pine per year, to either 72,400 CCF per year or 90,500 CCF per year.

That recommendation prompted Neiman Enterprises to announce it would close their Hill City saw mill and eliminate 120 jobs.

The scientists behind the study, USDA Research Foresters Mike Battaglia and Terrie Jain, explained in the meeting that continuing to harvest 181,000 CCF of ponderosa pine per year in the Black Hills is not sustainable under any scenario they studied.

The methodology behind the recommendation is based on several factors, they said. Battaglia and Jain, along with the late Russell Graham, looked at historical data going back more than a century. The data looked at tree growth and tree mortality rates to determine sustainable harvest levels.

Prior to the early 2000s, the Forest Service only used periodic Forest Inventory and Analysis reports to assess the health of the forest. The Forest Service now produces annual reports.

Battaglia said comparisons between periodic inventory and annual inventory presented some issues.

"For example, periodic inventories tended to underestimate (tree) mortality," he said. "During those inventories, mortality was only calculated based on the trees that were still standing. So, if a dead tree had fallen, it didn't count toward mortality."

The annual inventory fixed that discrepancy, Battaglia said.

Additionally, with major wildfires in the Black Hills and the 20-year mountain pine beetle epidemic during the late 1990s and 2000s, the health of the Black Hills National Forest and the amount of sustainable timber took another hit.

"If you have higher mortality than you do gross growth, you're going to start losing volume. When you include (timber) harvest into that, it exacerbates that by losing even more volume," Battaglia said.

Jain said there is a way to balance the need for timber products and a healthy, sustained forest. But to get there, Jain suggests finding proper management to get to that balance.

"Even with the mountain pine beetle and the current condition, the Black Hills are in a good position to move forward, and there are numerous management opportunities if we are willing to be innovative," she said.

Jacqueline Buchanan, deputy regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, said the report is not the only document the Forest Service will use to develop a revision to the Black Hills Forest Plan, which is being initiated this year.

"This (report) is one piece of information that will be a part of that process. It is not a decision document. It is not the only information we will rely on," Buchanan said. "We will use the best science available and this is a part of that. But there's quite a bit of other information that we take into consideration, including socioeconomics, and then the additional information that is gathered from when this piece of work ended and as we move forward."

Buchanan said the revised Black Hills Forest Plan will take somewhere between three to four years to complete. Black Hills National Forest Supervisor Jeff Tomac will oversee the development of the plan.

"This is the beginning of the conversation, from my standpoint as the forest supervisor leading this effort forward on forest plan revision, and how this information will be used," Tomac said.

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Construction on Main, St. Joseph streets to last through June

Patty and Jeff Danielson postponed opening the Station on Main for the second year in a row. First, it was the pandemic. Now, it's for construction.

“We can’t open, we don’t have a parking lot,” Jeff said Wednesday. “If you get in here, you can’t get out because they have construction trailers and everything.”

Construction began on Main Street and St. Joseph Street between West Boulevard and West Street around March 22 to install new waterlines and storm sewer. The construction is part of the overall multi-phase 12th Street Reconstruction Project to alleviate flooding issues in the area, city communications coordinator Darrell Shoemaker said.

The Rapid City Council approved the $5.25 million project on Dec. 21.

Areas from Fulton Street to West Main Street will see reconstruction. The project on Main Street and St. Joseph Street will also work through Halley Park. West Main Street is scheduled for completion by June 15 while St. Joseph Street is scheduled for completion no later than Sept. 1 with a goal to be completed before the start of the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which will be Aug. 6-15.

Shoemaker said work on phase one of the project would move to 12th Street from St. Joseph Street to Kansas City Street with completion by Oct. 31.

“The second phase entails work on 12th Street from Kansas City Street to Fulton Street,” he said.

The work would be a full reconstruction and is scheduled for 2022.

The Danielsons said they typically open the Station on Main in March, but with the construction, they had to postpone. During the pandemic businesses were shut down for much of the spring and the shop reopened around June.

The Station on Main sells antique, vintage, re-purposed and up-cycled furniture and other items.

Patty said they’re retired, so they don’t rely on the income.

“If we relied on it, we’d be really hurting badly,” Jeff said. “It’s got to be done. We’re not complaining about it, it just has to be done. We kind of knew it (was coming) but it still sucks.”

Susan Sorbel, owner of Antique and Furniture Mart, said her business has declined about 10% with the construction on West Main Street starting, but she’s able to have people park behind the building.

“We have a lot of loyal customers and people who have a purpose, they’re looking for something,” she said. “They’ll call and we’ll tell them how to get in. Hopefully, it’ll be over soon.”

Sorbel said it’d be nice to have the construction completed by tourist season because they typically get a lot of out-of-state dealers in April and into May.

For Seth Arthur and Devon Rivers, residents on St. Joseph Street and industrial engineering students at South Dakota Mines, the construction can add anywhere between five to 20 minutes on to their commutes whether it be for getting to class or just trying to pull into the driveway.

“There’s always people here,” Arthur said.

“It hurts the soul a little bit,” Rivers said. 

Arthur said it was rough when construction first started, but now it seems like people know how to avoid the area.

“Everyone’s frustrated, right? Nobody wants to be sitting here in traffic,” he said. “When we’re sitting here in the driveway and we’re trying to pull out and people don’t make room for you, it’s like, ‘dude, I literally live here. Let me get away from my house and get into traffic before I get into traffic.’”

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South Dakota prisons see unusual amount of suicides this year
  • Updated

The Department of Corrections has seen three incarcerated people die by suicide just four months into 2021 after seeing one suicide per year for the past five years.

The DOC declined to speculate what might explain the three deaths, which occurred at two prisons between March 16 and April 3. However, it said it’s investigating each case to determine if care can be improved.

All prison deaths are investigated with clinic mortality review, according to DOC spokesman Michael Winder. Suicides and unexpected deaths are also investigated through an administrative review.

An administrative review is “an assessment of correctional and emergency response actions surrounding an offender's death,” Winder said. “Its purpose is to identify areas where facility operations, policies and procedures can be improved.”

Administrative reviews for suicides consist of determining the circumstances surrounding the death, a review of relevant facility procedures and training, identifying possible factors leading to the suicide, and any recommendations to prevent future ones, according to the DOC’s suicide prevention policy.

The clinical mortality review “is an assessment of the clinical care provided and the circumstances leading up to a death,” Winder said. “Its purpose is to identify areas of patient care or system policies and procedures that can be improved.”

The clinical mortality review for suicides involves a postmortem psychological evaluation and a review of the person’s involvement with behavioral health treatment and programing, the policy says.

Winder did not respond when asked if the DOC will release information on how these suicides happened in a secure setting and whether policy was followed. He also didn't respond when asked if the agency can release redacted or summary versions of the reviews. 

The DOC has also asked the Division of Criminal Investigation to review the three suicides.

The scope of DCI’s investigation is limited to looking into whether any crime was committed, not whether jail or prison staff followed policy, according to spokesman Tim Bormann. DCI does not release a summary of its findings like it does when it investigates serious officer use-of-force incidents.

The first suicide occurred on March 16 when Abby Hall was found unresponsive in a bathroom at the South Dakota Women’s Prison in Pierre, according to a news release. The 32-year-old was taken to the hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The prison called 911 to report an "inmate down" at 4:39 p.m. and an ambulance soon arrived, according to Bryan Walz, a captain with the Pierre Police Department. He said DCI agents responded to the scene, not any local police officer or deputy. 

Hall was admitted to prison on Feb. 5 for a parole violation related to multiple drug convictions, Winder said. She had been on suicide watch but wasn’t receiving her mental health medication, her family told the Argus Leader.

The two other suicides happened at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls. Michael Noland was found unresponsive in his cell on March 27, while Michael Hand was found unresponsive in his cell on April 2. Hand died the next day at a hospital.

The Sioux Falls-area dispatch center declined to describe when and how the prison reported these incidents. 

Noland, 32, was serving multiple sentences, including for first-degree robbery in Brookings County, eluding from law enforcement in Beadle County, and grand theft and drug possession in Minnehaha County.

Hand, a 25-year-old from Rapid City, was serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in Pennington County. He was 18 when he killed 47-year-old Myron Rock in 2014 in the alley behind Cold Stone Creamery on West Main Street in Rapid City, according to Journal archives.

Rock died from a beating or strangulation, an autopsy found. Hand admitted that he hit Rock multiple times after becoming angry.

Hand was originally charged with second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. His lawyer said he had depression and possibly fetal-alcohol syndrome and other disorders. ​

If you are struggling with suicidal ideation or mental health these resources and referral agencies are available 24/7: 

  • Helpline Center: 211
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255
  • Crisis Care Center in Rapid City: (605) 391-4863
  • Mental health and substance abuse services by location in South Dakota

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NDN Collective plans to open Indigenous-run school in Rapid City
  • Updated

After two years of attempts to pass legislation that would establish and fund Oceti Sakowin schools in South Dakota, Indigenous activists are taking matters into their own hands.

In the fall of 2022, the NDN Collective plans to open the first indigenous-led community-based school in Rapid City, the second in the state.

The school will start with 40 kindergarten students. Its main function will be building educational equity for Indigenous students but will be open to children of all races.

The Collective has partnered with the NACA Inspired Schools Network and has a NISN fellow, Mary Bowman, to work on the school’s design.

“With a school designed with their needs and identities front and center, Indigenous youth will be able to heal from generations of trauma and truly thrive in a community that celebrates their past, present, and future,” Bowman said in a press release.

The Collective, whose founder and CEO is Nick Tilsen, is in the early planning stages of the school, but they hope to have formalized plans and data gathered to present to the legislature next session to make a stronger case for community-based school legislation.

The data is “plain and in your face” on the achievement gap that has historically been present between Indigenous youth and their non-Indigenous counterparts, said Amy Sazue, education equity organizer at NDN Collective.

South Dakota’s Indigenous students have disproportionately lower rates of graduation, achievement, and social mobility, as well as being disproportionately and more harshly disciplined in schools than non-Indigenous students. For years these issues have largely gone unrecognized and unaddressed without sustainable solutions, according to Sazue.

“The school aligns with NDN Collective’s mission of Indigenous reclamation and self-determination and exercising that in this realm,” she said.

The NDN Collective will be fully funding the Rapid City community school, but it will continue to push for supplementary legislation until it passes, Sazue said.

The community school’s curriculum will combine the necessary statewide content standards with Indigenous culture, language, ancestral knowledge, history, and traditional lifestyles. The main difference from a regular school is the incorporation of the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings, which are recognized content standards by the state that encompass Lakota history, culture, language, and land.

“The benefit is it connects students to Lakota culture and the land we all live on and gives them a taste of accurate history,” Sazue said. “Non-natives can understand their community members better, and indigenous students can connect to their culture.”

“Our school will allow Indigenous youth to be unapologetically themselves, which is critical during years when we are figuring out who we are and where we fit into the world,” Sarah Pierce, Director of Education Equity at NDN Collective, said in a press release. “Education is a way to begin to undo the systems of oppression and white supremacy that Indigenous people have been subjected to for generations. It’s a way for Indigenous people to reclaim our power.”

The school is starting with kindergarteners, allowing those students to begin their educational career grounded in Lakota thought and philosophy, which Sazue said is “so exciting.”

The Collective isn’t sure yet on how it will select the 40 students to begin the school, but Sazue said she anticipates doing lots of outreach over the next year and a half to communicate the school’s message.

“It’s an awesome opportunity to collaborate on what education could look like and reimagine education. We’re excited to start a conversation about thinking outside the box while still aligned with state content standards,” Sazue said.

NDN Collective doesn’t yet have a dollar amount for how much the school will cost to start, but Sazue said they will be fundraising in the future. She said people can donate now on the NDN Collective website.

Sazue said they will be doing everything they can to open the school in the right way, but they have not been in contact with the State Board of Education yet. A spokesperson for the DOE said it is not involved in the Collective's effort and that it is up to the school to seek accreditation from the department. Rapid City Area Schools also has not been in contact with the Collective but supports the school’s mission.

“The district could potentially lose funding if current RCAS students were to unenroll to attend NDN Collective's community-based school, however, I applaud NDN Collective's efforts,” Lori Simon, RCAS superintendent, said. “I share the group's concerns regarding the opportunity gap that exists for Native American students in our district, state and country.”

Simon said that RCAS is now actively working to address that gap, developing an Indigenous Education Task Force made up of Native American parents, Indigenous community members and RCAS leaders established to develop a Lakota Immersion Classroom pilot. The pilot will be rooted in Lakota ideology, language, and philosophy and meets state education standards. Simon said the district hopes to launch its pilot this fall.