I HAVE A BURNING QUESTION: What are Forest Service officials thinking?
Here in the West where large fires already are destroying thousands of acres and burning hundreds of homes, new rules imposed by the U.S. Forest service have left many asking the same question.
It seems that under the new regulations, retardant used to fight large fires will no longer be able to be dropped near streams or lakes unless human life is at risk. Apparently there is concern the retardant may pollute the waterways.
According to a Huffington Post article, the decision is in response to a lawsuit filed over previous retardant dumping. Under the new regulations, the air tankers will be prohibited from dumping retardant within 300 feet of streams and lakes or in areas with endangered or threatened plants.
The decision comes while 15 uncontrolled fires rage in a variety of states. So far this year, hundreds of homes have burned, thousands of people have been evacuated and hundreds of thousands of acres have burned - and its early in the fire season.
The retardant is mostly ammonium phosphate, a fertilizer that has been known to cause fish kills when large quantities are introduced into waterways. However, documented cases of fish kills from the retardant are relatively rare. In a 2010 court ruling, it is stated that of the 128,000 retardant drops over an eight year period, only 14 of them resulted in fish kills.
A lawsuit was filed over using fire retardants near water after an accidental drop of a slurry retardant killed thousands of juvenile fish in the Fall River in Oregon. But the chemical used in that slurry, sodium ferrocyanide, is no longer used in fire retardant. The amount of ammonium phosphate used in retardants also has been halved, apparently without impacting its effectiveness in fighting the fires.
Forest Service officials insist the new rules limiting where pilots can drop the retardant won't hinder the pilots. However, those doing the flying say the new regulations will slow response as pilots will have to study charts and develop plans on how and where to drop their retardant.
Meanwhile, those with the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics said the Forest Service has yet to prove the retardant even works against large fires. Those with the Forest Service respond that decades of testing show the retardant works - and works well.
Personally, it all just leaves me shaking my head. I am all for protecting the environment, but I also am distressed to see large fires destroy thousands of acres of forests and homes. As the recent death of one pilot serves to remind us, these folk already have plenty to be concerned with. They fly low over rugged, burning terrain to drop their retardant and the new rules will just make their jobs harder.
I'm thinking their job is already tough enough.