Federal court rejects push to block fire retardant use to fight wildfires

A Federal lawsuit in Montana had the potential to make California’s dangerous wildfire season severely more deadly without the use of fire retardants.

As fire season draws closer, anyone concerned that the United State Forest Service (USFS) will not be allowed to use aerial fire retardant to contain blazes lighting up the nation’s forests will not have to worry. 

A Federal judge in Montana issued a ruling Friday in favor of the continued use of aerial fire retardants by Federal firefighters. 

The backstory: Last October, the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) filed a lawsuit against the USFS in Montana seeking to prevent the use of aerial fire retardants without a permit under the Clean Water Act. 

  • Several jurisdictions and organizations responded to the lawsuit in March, joining in support. The group included Paradise, which was devastated by the 2018 Camp Fire, and Butte and Plumas Counties. They joined the California Forestry Association and several other groups in support of the USFS. 

The big picture: The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled that the USFS can continue to use aerial fire retardant while it pursues a Clean Water Act permit. 

  • Had the court ruled in favor of environmental advocates, the USFS would have had to wait through a two-to-three year to obtain a permit under the Clean Water Act to use aerial fire retardant. 

What they’re saying: Matt Dias, the President and CEO of the California Forestry Association, called the ruling a victory for communities who depend on the USFS’s ability to successfully fight wildfires. 

  • “Fire retardant is one of the most important tools we have in our toolbox, and the Court’s decision to safeguard this tool was ultimately a decision to prioritize lives, land, businesses and forested environments,” Dias said. “I am grateful to the Court for considering how truly important this decision was to California forests and the American West as a whole.”
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