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Fire and Forest History at Mount Rushmore National Memorial:
Application and Demonstration of Fire Science

Cody Wienk, Fire Ecologist, Northern Great Plains Ecoregion, National Park Service
Peter M. Brown, Director, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research
Amy Symstad, Research Ecologist, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, USGS
Project Funded by:

Project Summary
Mount Rushmore National Memorial (MORU) is located in the Black Hills of southwestern South Dakota.  The Memorial's massive sculpture of four of the United States’ most respected presidents is a national treasure, an internationally recognized icon.  However, the major natural resource visitors see when viewing the Memorial is ponderosa pine forest that has not burned for over a century, with the last extensive fire in 1893.  Fuels and forest treatments are being explored to mitigate fire hazard and restore natural variability in forest structure and processes, but these will be highly visible and under more intense scrutiny than other areas around the West.  This creates both a need for a strong scientific basis for restoration efforts as well as an opportunity to highlight the use of fire science in forest and fuels management in ponderosa pine and other fire-adapted forests of the western US. 

We had three main goals in this project: 1) to use tree-ring data to document the historical fire regime and forest structure at MORU and how these have varied through time; 2) to model likelihood of crown fire incidence and extent in historical and current forests to gauge changes in crown fire risk and effects of potential mitigation measures; and 3) to communicate results and implications of our findings to NPS personnel, managers of similar ponderosa pine forests in the Black Hills and elsewhere, and the public.  Our objectives are: 1) to document and apply historical ranges of variability in fire and forest structure for a stronger scientific basis for natural resource management and ecological restoration at MORU; and 2) to demonstrate how a historical perspective helps to both inform and defend management decisions to the public and managers of similar ecosystems in the Black Hills and throughout the West. 

Cores and cross sections from exactly 1000 trees in 29 plots were collected in September, 2005.  Several, including this one, have been given to the Memorial for use in interpretation of the fire history for Memorial visitors.  Crossdating of all samples was completed by March, 2006. A final report was submitted to the Joint Fire Science Program in August, 2007.  We also put together a short report for the Park staff in spring, 2007, that has more information about the project.  A paper summarizing results from the study was published in Ecological Applications in December, 2008. 

Page last updated: December 2010
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