"SEATTLE — A federal judge has ruled that the federal Forest Service’s plan for using fire retardant to fight wildfires violates the law because it does not ensure protections for threatened and endangered species of fish and other animals.
Dropped from airplanes and helicopters, reddish clouds of retardant are often the most visible tool used to fight wildfires, particularly in rugged areas of the West. Yet chemicals in the most common retardants can hurt wildlife, particularly when they miss their mark. In some cases, large numbers of fish have been killed when retardant has been dropped into lakes and streams.
The plan encourages pilots not to drop retardant within 300 feet of a body of water, but it allows for exceptions if flying conditions require it or if lives or property are in danger.
Late Tuesday, the judge, Donald W. Molloy of Federal District Court in Montana, ordered the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct more rigorous environmental reviews of the ways retardant affects wildlife and to place more specific restrictions on how it is used. Judge Molloy did not halt the use of retardant but said he would consider doing so if new procedures were not in place by the end of 2011."