Federal Court Sides with Counties, Cities, and Forestry Groups, Ruling USFS May Continue Use of Aerial Fire Retardants to Fight Wildfires
MISSOULA, MT — Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana (Court) issued a ruling in a case brought by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) seeking to enjoin the USFS’ use of aerial fire retardants during firefighting activities. The Court ruled that USFS may continue using aerial fire retardants while pursuing a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit. This ruling came after a broad coalition of communities and landholders affected by wildfires filed an amicus brief and participated in oral arguments supporting USFS’ ability to use aerial fire retardants.
“Today’s decision is a victory for communities and industry stakeholders whose livelihoods depend on the Forest Service’s ability to successfully fight catastrophic 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. I am grateful to the Court for considering how truly important this decision was to California forests and the American West as a whole.” – Matt Dias, President and CEO of the California Forestry Association
“Montana and states across the west need access to every tool available to suppress wildfires to protect lives, property, and natural resources. The Court’s decision allowing the Forest Service to continue the use of aerial fire retardants will lead to safer firefighting conditions for firefighters on the ground and more effective suppression. We applaud the decision and can move forward confidently into the peak of our fire year knowing we can continue to prioritize the protection of human lives and property.” – Amanda Kaster, Director, Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation
“The health, vitality, and stability of the communities within which our AFRC members work are reliant on prompt and effective fire suppression efforts by the Forest Service and other federal agencies. AFRC’s members depend on the health and productivity of public forests, and many of our members own private forestlands that are directly adjacent to public forests managed by federal agencies. We are pleased with the outcome of this case, because the ability to deploy aerial fire retardant until a CWA permit is issued will help protect local communities, national forests, and private forestlands.” – Travis Joseph, President and CEO of the American Forest Resource Council
“Catastrophic wildfires can endanger fish and wildlife species, compromise air quality, and threaten the safety of Washington’s communities. The greatest threat of catastrophic wildfire today is in U.S. National Forests, and because fire ignores ownership boundaries, private forest landowners rely on U.S. Forest Service to deploy aerial fire retardants to suppress these wildfires. This decision will protect healthy, sustainable forests across Washington State, benefiting our air and water quality as well as the flourishing wildlife habitats in and around our forests.” – Jason Spadaro, Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association
“Today’s court decision will literally save lives. The aerial application of fire retardant is a critical part of the U.S. Forest Service’s firefighting strategy, and it unquestionably reduces a fire’s rate of spread, intensity, and danger to firefighters and the public. Taking this tool away would undermine the health and safety of our communities and cause significant economic harm to businesses navigating the constant threat of wildfire. Because the court rightfully chose to prioritize public safety, Americans across the West can breathe a sigh of relief.” – Ken Pimlott, Former Director of CAL FIRE
“Our farmers and ranchers face severe threats from wildfires that can occur in national forests and spread to agricultural lands, and they rely on state and federal agencies to use every tool possible to fight these fires. Continuing the use of aerial fire retardants will save the lives of livestock, preserve grazing operations, and protect our rural agricultural communities from peril.” – Jamie Johansson, President of California Farm Bureau
“As stewards of our forest land, it is our responsibility to fight for the protection of this precious resource at every level, which is why we are relieved the court ruled the U.S. Forest Service may continue to deploy fire retardants until a Clean Water Act permit is obtained. When a wildfire cannot be prevented, effective suppression capabilities are crucial for protecting our forests.” – Bill Imbergamo, Executive Director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition
“As a result of today’s decision, lives will be saved, less property will burn, and small Western economies will have more opportunity to flourish. The health, welfare, and economic prosperity of the residents of Butte County, along with many other rural communities, are uniquely reliant on—and impacted by—the Forest Service’s wildfire suppression efforts, which is why I am thrilled the Court ruled to allow the Forest Service to continue deploying aerial fire retardants.” – Doug Teeter, Butte County Supervisor and Board Chair of the Rural County Representatives of California
"Fire retardant has no substitute — not water, fuel breaks or ground crews. Prohibiting its use would harm forest conservation, threaten endangered species and impede our ability to save lives. I am glad the court recognized and acted upon the importance and urgency of this matter." – Brian Fennessy, Fire Chief of the Orange County Fire Authority
"No one knows the damage that these fires can cause more so than communities like mine. We lost our town to one of the biggest fires in California history, so this case was very personal for us. Our brave firefighters need every tool in the toolbox to protect human lives and property against wildfires, and today’s ruling ensures we have a fighting chance this fire season.” – Greg Bolin, Mayor of the Town of Paradise, California
On March 9, the California Forestry Association joined the Town of Paradise, California, which was devastated in the 2018 Camp Fire; Butte and Plumas counties, California; Rural County Representatives of California; American Forest Resource Council; National Alliance of Forest Owners; Federal Forest Resource Coalition; Montana Wood Products Association; Oregon Forest Industry Council; Washington Forest Protection Association; California Farm Bureau Federation; National Wildfire Suppression Association; and California Women for Agriculture in petitioning the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana to join the case brought in October 2022 by Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana granted the coalition the right to file an amicus brief and participate in the upcoming oral arguments on the summary judgment motion.
On April 14, the coalition filed an amicus brief in opposition to FSEEE’s motion for summary judgment, which included a declaration in support of the putative intervenors’ opposition to the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment from Ken Pimlott, former director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
On April 24, the Court heard oral arguments from FSEEE, USFS, and the coalition of amici curiae.