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Interagency Wildland Fire Chemicals Policy and Guidance

Retardant drop over Cove Creek Fire

Aerially applied fire retardant and other fire chemicals reduces wildfire intensity and rate of spread, decreasing risks to firefighters, enabling them to construct fireline safely. In many situations, the use of retardant in concert with firefighters on the ground allows the Forest Service to safely meet its responsibilities to protect landscapes, resources, and people.

Nationwide Aerial Application of Fire Retardant on National Forest System Lands

In 2011 the Forest Service signed a Record of Decision implementing direction for the Nationwide Aerial Application of Fire Retardant. In 2020 the Forest Service reviewed new information, published in the 2020 Supplemental Information Report. That report recommended modification of the alternative that was selected in 2011 and implemented in 2012, and preparation of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to analyze those modifications and to update retardant use data and information on federally listed and Regional Forester sensitive species. The final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) has been completed and is available for review along with the Record of Decision.

2024 Aerial Fire Retardant Final Record of Decision, (PDF) (740 KB)

2023 Aerial Fire Retardant Final SEIS, (5 MB), (PDF)

2023 Notice of Availability of Final SEIS, (182 KB), (PDF)

2022 Aerial Fire Retardant Draft SEIS

Notice of Availability of Draft SEIS

2011 Record of Decision

2011 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)

On November 30, 2023, the Forest Service published the “Nationwide Aerial Application of Fire Retardant Supplemental Environment Impact Statement” (SEIS) on the Interagency Wildland Fire Chemicals Policy and Guidance website

This SEIS, which is part of a routine National Environmental Policy Act process, supplements portions of the “2011 Nationwide Aerial Application of Fire Retardant Final Environmental Impact Statement.”  

The new record of decision (ROD) replaces the 2011 ROD, which established direction for the nationwide use of aerial fire retardant beginning in January 2012.

The Forest Service identified the need to prepare an SEIS in 2020, two years before the Clean Water Act lawsuit was filed. The final SEIS and ROD include information describing how the Forest Service is complying with the court order that resulted from the lawsuit.

The purpose of this decision is to provide updated direction for the use of aerially delivered fire retardant for wildland firefighting, while protecting firefighter and public safety and reducing potential impacts to federally listed species and other resources. Specifically, the SEIS addresses new information and changed conditions since 2011 including changes to federally listed species or identified regional forester sensitive species, new retardant formulations and increased annual use of aerially delivered retardants. Although retardant use has increased, the intrusion rate into avoidance areas remains low, at much less than 1%.  

The decision implements the proposed action (modified alternative 3). Although similar to the 2011 decision, it also:

  • Adds procedures for reviewing impacts and compliance with the Endangered Species Act when new retardant formulations are proposed for addition to the Qualified Products List.

  • Includes analysis of new retardant chemicals.

  • Updates information about resource impacts and about aerial retardant use since 2011, including resource impacts to species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and regional forester sensitive species.

  • Requires consultation with local tribes to identify any avoidance areas needed to protect cultural areas or sacred sites.

  • Adds an Environmental Justice Analysis.

  • Updates requirements for coordination with other government agencies.

  • Modifies and clarifies terminology.  

The Forest Service will continue to prohibit retardant drops within mapped avoidance areas for cultural resources; threatened, endangered, proposed, candidate or sensitive species; and in waterways.  

Additional Background 

The Forest Service has been using fire retardant chemicals since the 1950s and has continually sought to reduce potential adverse impacts while maintaining or improving the effectiveness of fire retardant formulations. All fire retardants used by the Forest Service fall into the Environmental Protection Agency’s “practically non-toxic” category for mammals, including humans, and aquatic species.

The use of fire retardant enables on-the-ground firefighters to more safely access fire areas to construct containment lines. It also can help protect lives, property and critical natural resources with minimal risk to fish and wildlife. Fire retardant formulas and products have changed many times over the decades to become safer, more environmentally friendly and more effective.  

In October 2011, the Forest Service released the “Nationwide Aerial Application of Fire Retardant on National Forest System Lands, Final Environmental Impact Statement” (USDA Forest Service 2011a), which concluded that aerial retardant poses minimal risk to most birds and large terrestrial wildlife but some potential risk to certain federally listed species, particularly those dependent on aquatic habitats. The 2022 record of decision established agency direction for the continued use of fire retardant applied from aircraft and prohibited aerial retardant drops in water ways and in mapped avoidance areas for threatened, endangered, proposed candidate or sensitive species.

In 2020, driven by changes to federally listed and regional forester sensitive species, retardant formulations, mapped avoidance areas, and new reporting information, the Forest Service reinitiated environmental Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries and began the process of drafting the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS).  

It also updated its Long-Term Retardant Specification to make the acceptable levels of aquatic toxicity more stringent and removed the ammonium phosphate requirement to foster product innovation.

The draft SEIS was published in February 2022. 


Additional Project Documents


Intrusion Maps (NOAA Fisheries Biological Assessment Appendix C and FWS Biological Assessment Appendix B)

Supplemental Information Report 2020

2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion  (Pages 1-395) (Pages 396-789)


Interagency Policy

Interagency Policy for Aerial and Ground Delivery of Wildland Fire Chemicals Near Waterways and Other Avoidance Areas

Aerial Fire Retardant Avoidance Map

U.S. Forest Service Aerial Fire Retardant Avoidance Areas Map Viewer

Instructions for Completing Avoidance Area Maps (AFRAA) a SharePoint site (requires an account to access)

USFS Aerial Fire Retardant Implementation Guide

Interagency Wildland Fire Chemicals Reporting Tools and Forms

The Retardant Intrusion Reporting Tool is now ready to use. To request access to the database, send an email to Ann Suter and Laura Conway. After you receive your invitation email, follow the instructions in the Guest Invitation Instruction document.

Guest Invitation Instructions for Retardant Intrusion Database

Retardant Intrusion Database User Guide

Spill Calculator

  • It is located on the Wildland Fire Chemicals and Aerial Delivery Systems website under Resources (dropdown menu in the upper right corner). This file is relatively large and compressed into a zip file. Once downloaded the application will be available with a separate PDF instruction manual. When opening for first-time, the program may take a minute or two to load.  


PDF Forms (for field use)

Aerial Fire Retardant Use on National Forest System Lands

Previous years – see Appendix C, Final Environmental Impact Statement



Ferguson Fire helicopter dropping retardant
Ferguson Fire helicopter dropping retardant