Fire safety can be a never-ending chore for Black Hills homeowners who live in and near the forest. But forest residents aren't alone in the fight these days.
A cooperative program between federal and state officials helps protect homes in the forest. But it also helps military veterans, including Jackalyn Dillick of Spearfish.
After separate tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dillick struggled to adjust to the world back home.
"I was kind of looking, having a couple problems trying to find the right job, really, just trying to figure out how to get back into life and stuff, or just get back on my feet," Dillick said.
She found a way, with her boots on, in a program that puts military veterans out in the woods and makes homes safer from fire.
The federal Bureau of Land Management works with fire-prevention officials in Black Hills towns and counties on the program. It gives veterans work and training in forest thinning and chain-saw operation that could develop into outdoor careers.
U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem toured a work site today and also talked to federal officials about maintaining and improving funding for the program during a period of conflicting spending priorities. She said that while there are many budget priorities, including money the BLM has committed to sensitive species such as the sage grouse out on the prairies, veterans needs and homeowner safety in the woods have to be at the top of the list.
“We certainly want to protect a species, but we want to balance that with common sense, making sure that programs like this that benefit our veterans and keep communities safe are important as well,” Noem said.
Dillick says it's money well spent.
"They take vets, try to help them re-integrate back into the real world, teach them how to be people again, get some job skills, and you also try to get that camaraderie," Dillick said.
Homeowners involved in the program say they like the way it makes their forest look but also the way it makes them feel about their own safety.
Veterans crews thinned trees on Stanley Anderson's land at Black Hawk northwest of Rapid City, making his home safer from fire. And it was easy to get done, he said.
“About a year and a half ago, I was out here working in the yard and I saw some young guys up here marking trees. And I walked over and talked to them to find out what was going on and they told me about this Firewise program,” Anderson said. “And I thought, ‘Well that sounds like a pretty good deal to me.’ And I got a business card and I called the number. And I think it was within a week or two they were out here taking trees out of my backyard.”
The price was right, too, Anderson said.
“They took about 50 trees out of here and I think I paid probably 10 to 20 percent of the bill," Anderson said.
That’s a real deal on safety, and helping out veterans, too. He figures that's a pretty cheap way to buy some safety and help out veterans, too.