Back in December, Black Hills resident and wildfire expert Bill Gabbert called shooting off tons of fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest in July “literally insane.”
With Donald Trump coming July 3 to hold Kristi Noem’s hand beneath a booming canopy of fireworks shot off over the ponderosa pine forest around Mount Rushmore, Gabbert maintains that shooting fireworks over Mount Rushmore is a bad idea:
“Burning debris, the burning embers and unexploded shells fall into a ponderosa pine forest and ponderosa pine is extremely flammable,” said Gabbert. “Shooting fireworks over a ponderosa pine forest, or any flammable vegetation, is ill advised and should not be done. Period.”
In April and May of 2020, the Black Hills fell 30% to 50% short of moisture compared to the long-term precipitation average for the region. Long range forecasts for June indicate that hotter and drier-than-average conditions will continue until July. On June 4, the U.S. Drought Monitor labeled nearly all of southwestern South Dakota, including most of the Black Hills, as “abnormally dry” [Nick Lowrey, “Fire Expert: Mount Rushmore Fireworks Show ‘Ill-Advised’ Due to Dry Conditions and High Fire Risk,” South Dakota News Watch, 2020.06.10].
The UNL Drought Monitor issued this week, based on data up to June 9, continues to list most of the Black Hills as D0, Abnormally Dry.
Fireworks pose such a high risk to the Black Hills that South Dakota law generally prohibits the sale or use of fireworks within the Black Hills Forest Fire Protection District (roughly, the great green land bounded by I-90, Highway 79, and the Cheyenne River).
The Noem Administration and National Park Service promise they have safety protocols in place… but the feds says those protocols are a state secret:
In response to questions from South Dakota News Watch about the fire risk, Gov. Kristi Noem’s communications director Ian Fury said the park service has taken several precautions, including performing an environmental assessment, conducting a large controlled burn within the memorial’s borders in April and creating a safety “Go/ No-Go” checklist that would be used to determine whether the risk posed by the fireworks is too high to continue the event as planned.
“The Go/No-Go checklist for the event was developed in collaboration with several state, local, and federal agencies. This checklist is based primarily on forecasted and current weather and fuels conditions that are used to predict fire behavior as well as the availability of fire suppression resources,” Fury said in an emailed statement.
What the park service’s Go/No Go checklist covers, and under what conditions the fireworks could be cancelled, have not been released to the public. In response to a request from News Watch for details, Maureen McGee-Ballinger, chief interpretation and education officer for Mount Rushmore, said National Park Service law enforcement officials have decided not to release the criteria for security reasons [Lowrey, 2020.06.10].
Park Service, Governor Noem, please explain to the residents of the Black Hills how weather and ground moisture data imperil security. Must the Drought Monitor and National Weather Service go on blackout the week before July 3?
If there really is any Go/No Go checklist in place, there’s no way Trump or Noem will let us see it to see if they actually obey it. Noem has already thrown coronavirus precautions to the wind for the July 3 event; there’s no way she’s going to let any fussbudgeting fire experts with all their cursed science and math stop her from giving Donald exactly what he wants and trying to get what she wants at their big forest fireworks make-out session.