USA — A home heating emergency on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is prompting Black Hills officials to send six semitrailers of firewood today in a program they hope to make permanent.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe’s home heating assistance money is running low, about 600 families need fuel, said Joe Red Cloud of the tribal vice president’s office.
The tribe is paying for hauling, and the state, Mount Rushmore National Memorial and private individuals are donatingwood.
“In many cases, it’ll be a lifesaver, literally,” Red Cloud said.
Mount Rushmore donated wood cut for fire prevention last year, but this year’s quantity is more than 10 times larger. The amount, about 100 cords, falls short of the need. Heating the average home for a winter takes more than one cord of wood, and not every home on the reservation is equipped to burn it.
“I don’t know if it’ll make major difference. I know it’ll make a dent,” Red Cloud said.
Considering conditions on Pine Ridge, every contribution counts, said Gerard Baker, superintendent at Mount Rushmore.
“The desperateness up there is compounded by many different factors,” he said. “There are people who just don’t have money. There is no firewood available in some of those areas. The price of propane gas is going sky high and on and on and on.”
Red Cloud said sponsors will haul wood to each of the reservation’s nine districts in southwest South Dakota, where residents can pick it up. Some comes from fuel thinning projects at Custer State Park. Beth Hermanson, of the Wildland Fire Suppression Division, said it’s the first time she knows of that the state has given wood to the tribe. “Hopefully, next time it doesn’t come to such a crisis, and we would plan a little better,” Hermanson said.
One snag is that the Forest Service lacks congressional authority to donate wood from land it controls in the Hills. “We have an extremely limited authority to give away anything that belongs to the public on the national forest system, and normally that’s a good thing,” said spokesman Frank Carroll.
To get around that this year, service employee Brad Exton bought 30 cords of wood and is making it available to the tribe, Carroll said.