Tomac takes the helm as forest supervisor

PIctured is Jeff Tomac, Black Hills National Forest supervisor. Courtesy photo

DEADWOOD — There’s a new forest supervisor and Tuesday, the Lawrence County Commission was formally introduced to him by Northern Hills District Ranger Steve Kozel.

Jeff Tomac was named supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest in late January.

“The first time I met Jeff, he was working here on the Black Hills National Forest on the Hell Canyon Ranger District as a range conservationist,” Kozel said. “And from there, he went to Oregon to serve as a district ranger there for a few years before going to southwest Montana and working there as a forest supervisor, so, we’re really glad to have Jeff here.”

Lawrence County Commission Chairman Richard Sleep thanked Tomac for attending the meeting.

Tomac, who has been with the Forest Service for 32 years, thanked the commission for the opportunity to meet them and visit with them.

“Both my wife and I are from Perkins County area, born and raised there,” Tomac said. “Started my career with the Forest Service on the Grand River National Grasslands in Lemmon, S.D”

He went to school at South Dakota State University and received a degree is in rangeland management, botany, and soil science. He spent the first 20 years of his career in resource management and then jumped over and started doing line officer roles.

Tomac’s first line position was as the district ranger position in Baker City, Ore., on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

But he intended to get back to South Dakota.

“(I’m) very much looking forward to working with everybody on the Black Hills and taking every opportunity that I can to meet with folks … as I’m getting up to speed on the many, many issues and/or concerns on the Hills,” he said.

Members of the Lawrence County Timber Committee were in attendance and addressed Tomac regarding a recent welcome letter sent from Sleep, emphasizing the county’s cooperative agency status with the Forest Service.

“We welcome a strong working relationship with the Black Hills National Forest on the forest plan revision process and other land management decisions,” Sleep wrote in the letter. “Our county’s future is tied to our public lands, which account for more than 50% of the county’s area. A healthy and productive forest is vital to the citizens of Lawrence County and is a place where our citizens work and play.”

Sleep said that a viable timber industry is a critical component of the local economy and for maintaining the health and resiliency of the county’s public and private forests.

“We support retaining our ability to manage the forest that so many of our citizens rely on to support their families,” Sleep said. “The Black Hills National Forest also offers diverse recreational opportunities which are an essential element of our lifestyle. These same recreational activities are also enjoyed by thousands of others who visit each year and help to stimulate the local economy and regional economy.”

Sleep closed by saying that recognizing the central role of the Black Hills National Forest to the lives of Lawrence County citizens, the County Commission, acting in conjunction with the Timber Committee, has more than a 25-year history of offering input on Black Hills National Forest related projects and issues, including working on the Phase 2 Forest Plan Amendment from 2002 through 2006 under South Dakota’s Cooperative Agency status.

Sleep added that Lawrence County requires private landowners to manage their weeds.

“As a Range Con, I appreciate that,” Tomac said.

Sleep added that county officials feel the Forest Service could do a better job of managing weeds and asked for more dependable funding from the agency to help.

Sleep also informed Tomac that the commission has had significant discussion regarding ATV use in the county and thanked him for his work on the matter with the multiple use coalition.

“We have people concerned about that all the time,” Sleep said.

Sleep said citizens are concerned about the closing of the Hill City sawmill.

Timber Committee Chairman Bill Coburn addressed Tomac.

“We’ve been involved in the NEPA process since 1992,” Coburn said, adding that the Timber Committee remains quite active. “One of the things I’m quite proud of, I know it’s somewhat controversial, but I’ll probably go to my grave to say that Lawrence County did the right thing, back in 2008. Took the initiative to start dealing with the Mountain Pine Beetle. This is four years before the Mountain Pine Beetle Advisory Committee came together in 2012.”

Coburn said mountain pine beetles started moving into the Lawrence County area in 2008 during the latest epidemic.

“Lawrence County, through their Invasive Species Program, started a work agreement with the district, which became a model with the Forest Service throughout the forest,” Coburn said. “By the time it was all said and done, I don’t know how many bug trees were marked, and cut, and chunked, but it was in the hundreds of thousands that Lawrence County had been responsible. They paid over $4 million out during that period of time, which is a huge commitment, just from one county.”

Coburn added that Pennington County, a much larger county, spent $1 million.

“This county is really committed to try and keep a healthy forest and as you go to the north end, you can see all the efforts actually proved to be pretty valuable,” Coburn said.

Commissioner Randy Deibert addressed Tomac, pointing to the forest plan revision that will take place in the next two to three years.

“We would really like to see local government involved in that process,” Deibert said. “I’ll just leave it at that. Secondly, the UTV action committee impressed upon me that they would like a non-US Forest Service agency or group to lead the policy making committee or steering committee, as it’s called. The Black Hills Regional Multiple Use Coalition has expressed interest in being that vessel.”

Tomac said he is interested to see what sorts of policies or policy-making items that the coalition would like to take on, convene, or be a part of.

“Beyond all of that, welcome,” said Commissioner Randall Rosenau.

“Thank you. I’m looking forward to being here and working with you all,” Tomac said.

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