Several natural resource groups, farm groups and community organizations filed a motion last week to intervene in a lawsuit an environmental group filed against the U.S. Forest Service trying to stop the use of fire retardants.
Last fall, the Oregon-based Forest Employees for Environmental Ethics sued the forest Service, challenging the agency’s right to use aerial fire retardants near navigable waters.
“We must be able to fight wildfires with everything we have, and limiting the U.S. Forest Service’s ability to do so flies in the face of forest conservation and preservation,” said Matt Dias, president and CEO of the California Forestry Association, one of the organizations that filed a motion to intervene.
In the original suit, filed in U.S. district court in Missoula, Mont., the environmental plaintiff, known as FEEE, alleges that the Forest Service’s use of aerial fire retardants pollutes some navigable waters in the U.S. in violation of the Clean Water Act.
FEEE alleges that the Forest Service’s actions when discharging fire retardants are “arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion.”
The suit alleges that if fire retardant enters a waterway, it can damage habitats and kill or hurt aquatic species such as fish.
According to court documents, FEEE filed its original complaint on Oct. 11. The Forest Service responded on Dec. 12. FEEE then moved for summary judgment, requesting the court to rule without a full trial.
The Forest Service responded on Feb. 17, opposing a summary judgment. The court has not yet set a date for oral argument on summary judgment.
This month, several natural resource groups and community organizations moved to intervene as defendants in the case. Although they were not named as original parties in the lawsuit, they requested the court add them to the case as defendants in support of the Forest Service.
The groups that filed the motion were the California Farm Bureau, the Town of Paradise, Butte County, Plumas County, Rural County Representatives of California, American Forest Resource Council, National Alliance of Forest Owners, Federal Forest Resource Coalition, California Forestry Association, Montana Wood Products Association, Oregon Forest Industries Council, Washington Forest Protection Association, California Women for Agriculture and the National Wildfire Suppression Association.
“We support the Forest Service’s continued use of this important firefighting tool,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau.
In their recent filing, the parties argue that firefighters need every tool available to them to suppress fires and protect lives, homes and habitats. The groups claim that “retardant is critical to suppressing fast-moving fires in areas close to communities and where the topography may limit, delay or preclude ground-based attack.”
“Fire retardant saves lives — just ask the surviving residents of Paradise,” said Dias, of the California Forestry Association.
Separately from the lawsuit, the Forest Service has been working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies on getting special permits to cover fire retardant discharges in federally protected waters.
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