Story at a glance
- President Trump is planning a trip to Mt. Rushmore for the Fourth of July weekend.
- A planned fireworks display will have no social distancing or mask requirements.
- Critics warn of the dangers of spreading coronavirus and also fire.
Coronavirus or not, President Trump’s upcoming trip to Mt. Rushmore is incredibly risky, critics warn.
A planned fireworks display defies a decade-long ban on pyrotechnics imposed by the National Park Service after a pine beetle infestation devastated the area's ponderosa pines and created a fire danger.
Experts warn that the conditions are still dangerous, especially with the region experiencing a moderate drought, with the surrounding Black Hills National Forest 30 to 50 percent short of moisture compared to the long-term precipitation average for the region, according to local news reports. At the same time, temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, where normal temperatures are normally between the 50s and 70s.
“Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable,” Bill Gabbert, former fire management officer for Mount Rushmore and six other national parks in the region, told the Rapid City Journal. “Shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period.”
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The park service has assessed that the planned display will pose only a slight fire risk under normal conditions, but that the risk would rise if the region were abnormally dry. Even in normal conditions, the chance of a smaller fire in the forest was at 60 percent.
Still, thousands of people are planning to attend the event as new coronavirus cases spike across the United States. In South Dakota, where there have been more than 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, masks are optional and recommended social distancing measures will not be enforced.
One county over from the National Memorial, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one of the poorest Indian reservations in the United States, is home to the Oglala Lakota Nation. On June 30, the tribe reported 79 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 40 of which were still active, and one death.
“Trump coming here is a safety concern not just for my people inside and outside the reservation, but for people in the Great Plains. We have such limited resources in Black Hills, and we’re already seeing infections rising,” Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner told the Guardian.
Several Native American groups are planning to protest the event located in the Black Hills, land which once belonged to Indigenous people and was initially exempted from white settlement under a treaty with the United States Government. After gold was discovered in the area, however, the federal government violated the treaty and corralled the Indigenous people on smaller reservations in the area.
“The lands on which that mountain is carved and the lands he’s about to visit belong to the Great Sioux nation under a treaty signed in 1851 and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and I have to tell him he doesn’t have permission from its original sovereign owners to enter the territory at this time,” Bear Runner said.
As racist monuments across the United States have come down in recent weeks, some activists have called for Mt. Rushmore to join them.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem responded on Twitter.
Not on My Watch.https://t.co/jNuF5kabFX— Governor Kristi Noem (@govkristinoem) June 26, 2020
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