W hat’s more dangerous? Forest fires or
lawsuits by radical environmental groups?
Ponder recent Colorado fires that destroyed hundreds of homes.
Visualize the couple huddled with their kids and the family dog, thankful they left the forest in time. They hope everyone else found their way to safety before fire began gobbling up homes.
The family prays for the men and women
fighting the fire. They ponder life without the irreplaceable photos and heirlooms that occupy their home. They fear for friends and neighbors who remain unaccounted for.
They look to the sky, hoping for the comfort of aircraft that drop red retardant — missions flown by brave men and women who have long been considered essential special forces in our wars against wildfires. Maybe the right drop will save their home.
But the sky is empty, devoid of the aircraft that fly into smoke.
The planes are grounded because
environmentalists feared fire retardant might kill fish, or harm endangered plants. They filed a
lawsuit to stop the aerial missions. One of the
litigants spoke about a conspiracy called the “fire industrial complex,” in which government spends millions to enrich private contractors who dump retardant.
If this lawsuit and the odd conspiracy theory sound far-fetched, they are not. It is all in the works.
An environmental group known as the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics filed suit to stop the aerial drops twice since 2003, and in July a judge gave them a favorable ruling instead of laughing them out of court.
“There is developed a fire industrial complex between the government and these contractors that keeps the money flowing,” said Andy Stahl, one of the plaintiffs.
Profit is compassionate and good. It’s what pays for everything, including nonprofit charity and government aid. Yet elements of our culture have demonized financial success so thoroughly that a profit motive can be used as justification to stop aerial fire suppression.
U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy, in Missoula, Mont., ruled in July that the U.S. Forest Service has violated the Endangered Species Act by not limiting drops of fire
retardants. Aerial retardant is a combination of water, fertilizer (to deprive fires of oxygen) and dye that helps firefighters see where the repellent lands.
Molloy’s ruling came despite his own
admission that only 14 of 128,000 aerial drops have killed protected fish or plants in the past eight years. Get that? Aerial fire assaults could end because .01 percent of missions have harmed small numbers of plants and fish.
To Molloy’s credit, he did not order an
immediate cease and desist. Those who’ve had their homes spared from the ravages of forest fires should be thankful for that.
But the fix may be in. Molloy issued what The Associated Press called a “sternly written order” that says the Forest Service has until the end of 2011 to complete a rigorous environmental impact statement that could result in the
elimination of aerial assaults with retardant.
It is sad that .01 percent of aerial firefighting missions have harmed fish or plants. If a less harmful retardant becomes viable, it should be used.
In the meantime, the judiciary shouldn’t even consider a ban on fire retardants. Society harms far more aquatic wildlife with contraceptives, erection pills, antidepressants and other
pharmaceuticals our sewage treatment facilities dump into rivers and streams. It should be unthinkable that people die, and houses burn, to avoid the slight possibility of harming plants and fish while fighting fires.