News Release

USDA Forest Service releases fire retardant draft Environmental Impact Statement

Forty-five day public comment period begins May 13

May 13, 2011 -

In response to a 2010 court decision, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement today that will help inform the agency's decision whether to continue aerial application of fire retardant and, if so, under what conditions.

In July 2010, a U.S. District Court in Montana directed the Forest Service to develop the environmental impact statement after an organization sued the agency claiming that fire retardant drops were harming waterways. The release of the draft impact statement kicks off a 45-day public comment period.

“The use of fire retardant, in concert with firefighters on the ground, allows the Forest Service to safely protect landscapes, resources and, most importantly, people’s lives,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Research and experience demonstrate that aerially applied fire retardant, used in an appropriate manner, reduces wildfire intensity and the rate of spread, which increases the effectiveness of our fire suppression efforts on the ground.”

Most wildfires are managed without the use of fire retardants. From 2000 through 2010, aerially applied retardant was used on about 8.5 percent of wildfires on National Forests System lands, and over the last ten years, on lands managed by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the states, only one of every 5,000 retardant drops has impacted waterways.

All federal wildland fire agencies follow the Guidelines for Aerial Delivery of Retardant or Foam Near Waterways to prevent application of retardant into waterways. In 2008, the Forest Service adopted additional measures recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to avoid impacts to listed species and habitat.

The release of the draft environmental impact statement begins a 45-day public comment period. There will be opportunities in several locations across the country for the public to interact with Forest Service specialists and learn more about fire retardant and the document.

The document is available online for review and comment. The agency will consider public remarks submitted during the comment period in the development of the final environmental impact statement expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2011.

The Forest Service will host several community listening sessions at these dates and locations:

  • May 24, Ocala, Fla.
  • June 7, Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • June 9, Wenatchee, Wash.
  • June 15, Tucson, Ariz.
  • June 16, National Community Listening Session via webinar

Additional meetings to engage technical and science stakeholders include:

  • April 26, Interagency stakeholder discussion group via webinar
  • April 28, Non-agency stakeholder discussion group via webinar
  • May 17 (morning),Science panel discussion, Boise, Idaho
  • May 17 (afternoon), Technical listening session on fire operations, Boise, Idaho
  • May 26, Technical listening session on effects, Missoula, Mont.