Not surprisingly, the decision last week by the National Park Service (NPS) to not allow a July 4 fireworks display at Mount Rushmore has become political fodder that strives to dismiss the facts behind the decision.
There’s a lot to unpack with this issue (for today, not including the fact that some tribes objected to the fireworks show on the ground that the monument is contested land), so for a road map, let’s dissect a joint press release issued last Friday by South Dakota’s congressional delegation criticizing the decision. The statement issued by Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson read: “Let’s be clear, this decision is political, not evidence-based. President (Joe) Biden just said himself that Americans can safely gather by July 4 — what’s changed in a day? Last year millions watched the celebration in awe, and it’s a shame the administration is denying Americans that opportunity this year.”
First, the NPS decision is based on the environmental threats posed by a pyrotechnics display. The NPS has not allowed the annual Mount Rushmore fireworks display since 2009, originally because of the tinderbox conditions created by the pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills. This ban was reversed in 2020 in order for President Donald Trump to hold a rally at the monument the night before Independence Day. Nevertheless, a fire danger still exists in the area because of potential drought conditions and because fallen, dried pine needles on the forest floor are basically fuel. Also, there are concerns that the chemicals emitted by a mass pyrotechnic display can get into area waters.
Another factor is the COVID-19 pandemic, which, despite the progress currently being made, figures to still be a threat this summer, making large-scale gatherings a gamble.
NPS Regional Director Herbert Frost wrote in a letter to South Dakota Tourism Secretary Jim Hagen that, despite the controversial 2020 display, a show this year would pose “potential risks” which would not allow for a “safe and responsible” event to occur.
There is no real evidence that this is a political decision; instead, it’s based on environmental assessments as well as national health guidelines. Claiming otherwise is projection, in this case by trying to score political points by accusing the NPS of playing politics.
Also, attacking Biden’s stated hope that Americans can celebrate the Fourth of July together misrepresents what he actually declared last Thursday. He said: “If we do this (referring to COVID vaccinations and continued precautions) together, by July 4th, there is a good chance you, your family and friends can get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day.” It opens with a conditional clause and states there’s a “good chance” that perhaps smaller or neighborhood-sized gatherings could happen, not major events that could draw thousands of people. Again, this is based on evidence and assessments that have formed the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Turning the Mount Rushmore fireworks decision into a political-attack tool dismisses the environmental and health risks and instead casts it as another ideological flashpoint. It’s a destructive exercise, especially at a time when common sense really (even desperately) needs to prevail.