USDA Forest Service releases fire retardant Environmental Impact Statement

Cottonwood Fire 2011 | Photo by Cortney Crosby, BLM Fire Prevention

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, identified on Oct. 21 a preferred approach for continuing the aerial application of fire retardant on National Forest System lands.

As described in the final environmental impact statement it issued, the preferred approach would map land and water areas to avoid endangered, threatened, and sensitive species. This agency-preferred alternative would only permit aerial delivery of fire retardant into waterways when human life or public safety is threatened.

The preferred alternative’s protocols would also better protect cultural resources that include historic properties, traditional cultural resources, and tribal sacred sites.

In July 2010, a U.S. District Court in Montana directed the Forest Service to complete further analysis and to consult further with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmoshperic Administration Fisheries Service. An organization had sued the agency and claimed the Forest Service had not adequately analyzed the effects of dropping fire retardant and had not adequately protected endangered species from its effects.

The preferred alternative does not represent a final decision, but is one of three alternatives that the agency considered for tools that would allow the Forest Service to fight fires in rugged topography, in remote locations, and in areas that present risks to firefighters and the public.

The Forest Service expects to issue its Record of Decision before Dec. 31. The Record of Decision will establish agency direction regarding use of fire retardant applied from aircraft.

“This final environmental impact statement is a vital step informing our decision,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We’re approaching that decision as carefully as possible – we’re going to make sure we get this right, so we can protect our forests, wildlife, and the public.”

During the past several months, the Forest Service held five community listening sessions in locations around the country, several stakeholder webinars, three technical listening sessions, a science panel discussion and several tribal engagement events. The U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, a neutral facilitator from the private sector, designed and facilitated all of these events.

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

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