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Volume 27
Number 1
Spring 2010
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George Washington's likeness on the sculpture at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota. Science Feature
Management of ponderosa pine forest at Mount Rushmore National Memorial using thinning and prescribed fire
By Cody Wienk
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Mechanical thinning and an unplanned wildfire
Research and old-growth restoration potential
Chipping: Another tool in the management toolbox?
Literature cited
About the author
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Mount Rushmore understandably has become synonymous with South Dakota. References to the massive granite sculpture of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln are in the state nickname, on the license plate, and on the state-themed quarter. The memorial is known around the world and millions of people visit every year. Yet, I imagine few visitors appreciate the significance of the natural resources that surround the famous sculpture. For example, a research project completed in 2005 highlighted the value of the ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forest at Mount Rushmore. Symstad and Bynum (2007) reported that 66% of the memorial (850 acres [344 ha]) is covered by old-growth ponderosa pine forest and that it comprises “the second largest contiguous area of old growth within the Black Hills.”

Even though the ponderosa pine stands of the memorial maintain many old-growth characteristics, their structure has changed significantly over the past century. Protection from timber harvest has maintained the large, old trees in the memorial, but fire suppression has allowed a dramatic increase in smaller-diameter pine trees (fig. 1a). These dense thickets of pine regeneration can act as ladder fuel and in the event of a fire, can carry fire into the overstory, resulting in a crown fire. These conditions make the forest susceptible to severe wildfires and insect outbreaks (Shepperd and Battaglia 2002; Brown and Cook 2006). The National Park Service (NPS) Northern Great Plains Fire Management Office has undertaken a combination of research and fire management projects in an attempt to restore the historical structure to these forest stands and make them less susceptible to stand-replacing disturbances (fig. 2). This article describes some of the significant forest management studies and actions designed to achieve this goal.

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This page updated:  13 May 2010

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