Conservation for Generations to Come

April 1, 2021
Weekly Column

“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.” -Teddy Roosevelt

Historically, the Black Hills National Forest has flourished by serving many purposes. From camping to grazing, hiking to timber production, mining and wildlife habitat, the Black Hills have balanced economic, conservation, and recreational interests for decades.

This week, I travelled to the Black Hills with Natural Resources Committee Republican Leader Westerman to meet with both employees of the Hill City sawmill and U.S. Forest Service officials. 

Throughout our time there, the one thing that stood out to me most was that no matter who we spoke with, whether it was the sawmill workers who are fighting to keep their jobs, or the Black Hills forest service supervisor, or the first responders fighting the Schroeder fire, the unifying message was a shared love for the Black Hills and the shared commitment to finding a solution to ensure the longevity of our beautiful forest.

Being good stewards of the land means not just sitting back, but actively finding ways to responsibly develop, utilize, and conserve our natural resources. Proactive forest management has proved to be successful in reducing the impacts of insect infestations, like the mountain pine beetle, and wildfires, like we’ve seen this week. As firefighters continue to fight the catastrophic Schroeder fire, we are reminded more than ever of the importance of active forest management.

Proactive efforts in forest management provide an opportunity for economic development, in turn, bolstering the local communities around and within the Hills. Striking a balance between the two interests is not only economically beneficial, but vitally important to the long-term health of the forest. 

As I sat down with two mill workers who recently lost their jobs due to the sawmill closure, I was struck by their stories, it was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in Congress. After 53 years of operation, the mill is shutting down following years of Forest Service missing timber sale targets. Worse yet, they could be reduced further. This is yet another example of how federal policies can hurt real livelihoods.   

We need innovative solutions that don’t come from faraway politicians in Washington, D.C., but from those who have grown up in the Hills and understand the intricate balance of not just preserving but conserving the forest. I have faith that the timber industry and the Forest Service can work together along with state and local partnerships to brainstorm new approaches to keeping the timber harvest at levels that serve both the forest and the timber industry.   

I am grateful for the first responders who worked around the clock to contain the Schroeder fire, and law enforcement in carrying out evacuations to keep residents safe. I never tire of the majestic beauty of the Hills, and I want to preserve their beauty for generations to come, but it takes action and sound policy that take into consideration all stakeholders.

Teddy Roosevelt said it best that we must develop and use our natural resources but not waste them. We must be good stewards of the land. Proper forest management and active mills are vital to ensuring the enjoyment of the Black Hills for generations to come.