Mount Rushmore drafts plan for Mountain Pine Beetle

Mount Rushmore looking down from the top
Mount Rushmore administrative site, looking down from just below the sculpture . Photo by Bill Gabbert

Mount Rushmore National Memorial has posted a draft plan on how they intend to manage the mountain pine beetle (MPB) epidemic that is headed their way.  The problem is real, with the beetles staged just outside the memorial’s boundary on U.S. Forest Service land. While the critters are native to South Dakota and much of the western US, if they wipe out most of the Ponderosa pines near the sculpture in a epidemic caused by years of drought, it will not be a very pleasing sight for the 2.5 million visitors that trek there every year.

The plan calls for thinning most of the 1,200-acre site, spraying some areas, and treating much of the site with prescribed fire. They are asking for $5,653,150 through FY 2014. That works out to $4,710 per acre. Here is a summary of their treatment recommendations.

  • Spraying high value trees with insecticide to prevent loss within the developed area
  • Search, mark, and remove infested trees throughout the Memorial
  • Thin forests along the Highway 244 corridor to create a fuel and bug break
  • Thin forests throughout the Memorial to varying density and age class levels
  • Thin a 300 foot MPB and fire break along the south, west, and east boundary of the Memorial
  • Introduce prescribed fire throughout the Memorial after thinning
  • Communicate MPB management issues to the public

The memorial has enough funding to begin implementing the plan if it is approved, but they will be asking for more dollars to work on the list above, plus hiring four employees, including interpreters and a public information officer.

More on that below.

In addition to hiring a GS-9 Project Manager for four years, the plan calls for hiring, for the purpose of MPB “education outreach and public information”:

  • One (1) Seasonal intern position; $15,000
  • One (1) GS-05 Teacher-Ranger-Teacher (TRT) position (seasonal)$16,000

And also, a:

  • GS-09/01 Public Information Officer / 6 months $25,000

to “produce press releases updating the news and the public on weekly developments. The PIO would plan media events, briefings and meetings with interested parties to help facilitate communication and awareness of the project”.

And for the two seasonal positions, the plan says they will need to buy, with your tax dollars:

  • 1 Laptop computer, software applications & programs $7,000
  • 1 digital video camera, 1 digital still camera $7,000

Three employees, seasonal or partially funded, to handle public relations? Really? The memorial has a large interpretation staff already, and these three positions are necessary because some beetles are killing some trees? I don’t think so.

The impact of the beetles in the 1,200-acre Memorial is very small in comparison to the big picture in SD, WY, MT, and CO where about 5 to 6 million acres are affected. If all jurisdictions with MPBs in those states hired a public relations staff at the same staffing per acre as Mount Rushmore wishes to do, about 12,000 jobs would be created–JUST for public relations in MPB areas in four states. THERE ‘s your jobs program to boost us out of the recession. If they all bought computers for them at $7,000 each, it would cost $29 million.

And $7,000 for a computer and software for two seasonal positons? You can get a desktop computer for less than $1,000, or a good laptop for less than $2,000. Software would be a few hundred dollars.

And another $7,000 for a video camera and a still camera for the two seasonal positions? You can get a very nice digital video camera for $500 to $1,000, and a good digital camera is about $250 to $400.

The home page for Rushmore’s planning process is HERE. To COMMENT on the plan or to download the 5.7 Mb document, go HERE.

For those interested in the details of the thinning operation, here are the specifications from the document:


Because the unit is in Mount Rushmore National Memorial, minimizing the visual evidence of work, and minimizing the impacts on leave trees is of great importance.
1. Chainsaws used in project area will have approved spark arresters (.023-inch mesh screen)
2. Cut and pile green ponderosa pine with a DBH of 10 inches and less and any paint marked tree
3. All stumps will be cut parallel to the ground and cut no higher than one inch above the ground
4. All slash will be piled on site in a manner that facilitates safe burning at a later date
5. Pile specs as follows:

  • All stems and tops from cut trees shall be piled.
  • Slash piles will not be located on top of stumps or downed logs
  • Only wood that is cut will be piled. Leave dead and down fuel in place.
    • All felled trees will be completely limbed.
    • Piles should be in a cone or teepee shape so they will collapse inward as they burn
  • Piles will be constructed in a compact way with little air space inside pile so that COTR will not be able to push a closed fist through the pile
  • All slash will be bucked to 5 feet or less before piling.
  • All stems and tops from cut trees shall be piled.
    • Previous storm damaged trees already on the ground WITH needles shall be bucked, top down until the stem is greater than 5.0 inch D.B.H. The remaining stem shall be left on the ground.
    • All slash piles will be a minimum of 4 feet in diameter and 4 feet high and a maximum of 6 feet diameter and 6 feet high. All ends that stick out of piles must be bucked off and piled.
    • Slash piles will be placed in the center of openings between trees and no closer than 20 feet from existing standing trees or closer than 10 feet from each other.

6. The contractor shall NOT use any mechanized equipment to construct the piles.
7. To ensure field crews understand and remember all the specifications, the contractor will keep a copy of the statement of work on site during operations.
8. All remaining trees within 30 feet of the highway will be pruned up to 10 feet.


  • No off road vehicle use
  • All work associated vehicles will park together in designated area
  • Use of motorized equipment other than hand held equipment will not be permitted
  • Avoid cutting Aspen and birch
  • All conduct outside the specified work is subject to park rules and regulations concerning: littering, wildlife harassment, collecting, resource damage and other topics as specified for the NPS in the Code of Federal Regulations title 36

UPDATE: October 5, 2010

The final plan was released (large 7.6 MB file). It reduces the spending from $5.7 million to $2.7 million.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

2 thoughts on “Mount Rushmore drafts plan for Mountain Pine Beetle”

  1. I just created this site to describe my experience with pine beetles and how I saved my trees. Check it out and you may want to at least try something like I did to save or protect your trees.

  2. That is pretty funny about the $14,000 for the digital equipment.

    I think the public relations investment is a good investment because it is such a high impact area and people freak out when you are spraying on the level they are going to spray.


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