In an odd detour during the signing of the first part of the trade deal with China, President Donald Trump boasted about bringing back summer fireworks to Mount Rushmore. He said they had been blocked because of some “environmental reasons” — in a drought-stricken area threatened by wildfires.
As confused Chinese officials patiently waited Wednesday in the East Room of the White House, Trump also falsely indicated at one point that there had never been July 4th fireworks at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota (though he also said there have been none in 20 years).
In fact, there were major fireworks displays for several years at the Black Hills monument, which features massive stone carvings of the busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. But they were halted after 2009 when an infestation of pine beetles killed thousands of surrounding trees, turning them into potentially explosive tinder.
“What can burn? It’s stone, you know, it’s stone,” Trump told a group of people witnessing the trade deal signing, including South Dakota farmers and Gov. Kristi Noem. “So I called up our people and within about 15 minutes we got it approved, and you’re going to have your first big fireworks display at Mount Rushmore, and I’ll try to get out there if I can.”
The fireworks had been canceled because of the “unacceptable risk of wildfire,” said a 2011 statement from the National Parks Service. “Efforts are on-going ... to combat the Mountain Pine Beetle and reduce fire danger, however, the condition of the forest in the surrounding area continues to deteriorate and will remain a concern for the foreseeable future. The park service is committed to being responsible stewards of the land, as well as responsible neighbors, and to do that we need to take every conceivable precaution to mitigate the fire danger. ”
A CNN fact-check on Trump’s statement found that there was no “15-minute” turnaround in the policy. In fact, National Park officials — who are consulting with local tribes and weighing effects on wildlife — are still considering whether to allow fireworks as climate change continues to boost fire danger in dry regions of the nation. A 2016 report by the U.S. Geological Survey also found that past fireworks displays likely contaminated groundwater within the memorial site. An NPS proposal concerning fireworks will be available early this year for public comment.
Noem has been pushing for a resumption of fireworks, arguing in a statement in May that the surrounding forest has “gained strength” and that “advancements in pyrotechnics allow for a safe fireworks display.” If the fireworks display does return, she said, she hopes to attend the event with Trump.