Rushmore's biggest tree-thinning project ever under way - KOTA Territory News

Rushmore's biggest tree-thinning project ever under way


Chris Neyenhouse

"We've never done a large scale fuel reduction project like we've done here," said Mike Johnson, Fire Spokesman for the National Forest Service.

It's a million dollar tree–thinning operation spread over nearly half of Mount Rushmore's 12,000 acres.

"This is an opportunity for us to come in and take care of a lot of area at one particular time," said Johnson. "To create those fuel breaks, to help prevent any fire from spreading from the park onto neighboring grounds and visa versa."

Firewood mother nature usually burns herself is stacking up. Johnson says fires hit a typical forest every 17–25 years, but it hasn't happened here in over a century.

"You take that twenty-five years and multiply it by four and that's a lot of fuel," said Johnson.

So four teams will turn trees into wood chips now through Thanksgiving. But they're very selective.

Crews are looking for Ponderosa Pines that are ten inches and diameter or less. Some are less than ten inches and already dead, but they want to keep it here because it serves as a wildlife habitat.

Crews are also piling the fuels for a prescribed burn this winter.

"Those folks in the Black Hills have been driving around for years and seeing the little teepee shapes that have been sitting out in the forest," said Johnson. "Those have been cut and piles."

While the operation could help slow the pine beetle infestation, Johnson says the primary goal here is to protect the memorial, the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, the Black Hills National Forest and the town of Keystone.

"If any fire were to get into those and make an attempt to get into the memorial, the work we're doing will help prevent that spread," said Johnson. 

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