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Town of Paradise, Butte Co. push back against fire retardant lawsuit

FILE - A plane drops retardant on Trinity County's Kerline Fire on September 8, 2018. (Courtesy: USFS)
FILE - A plane drops retardant on Trinity County's Kerline Fire on September 8, 2018. (Courtesy: USFS)
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Butte County and the Town of Paradise are coming to the defense of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The agency is facing a lawsuit concerning its use of aerial fire retardant.

The Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE), an Oregon-based nonprofit, is suing the USFS in Montana for failing to secure a permit under the Clean Water Act. The law makes it illegal to drop pollutants in to U.S. waters without a permit. The lawsuit alleges that the USFS has dropped 761,282 gallons into national forest waters on at least 459 occasions.

The suit says fire retardant has "legal and sublethal effects" on fish and other aquatic species and habitats. Speaking to KRCR, FSEEE questioned the necessity of fire retardant all together, pointing to numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fire retardant is only used on 5% of wildfires nationwide.

"Paradise is the poster child for retardant ineffectiveness. If retardant was a success at Paradise, I'd hate to see failure," said Andy Stahl, executive director of FSEEE.

Stahl highlights the need to build with fire-resistant materials instead.

"Fires are like hurricanes and tornadoes. We can't prevent them. The only thing we can do is engineers our homes and communities so that they aren’t harmed and Paradise is doing exactly that."

Butte County and the Town of Paradise join Plumas County and the California Forestry Association in filing a motion to intervene. They're asking a judge to allow for the continued use of aerial fire retardant.

"We lost our town to one of the biggest fires in California. If they go through the extent of eliminating fire retardant from being dropped from planes, this fire would’ve spread even further had they not been able to do that," says Greg Bolin, mayor of the Town of Paradise. "When you start putting fish above people's lives and their homes I'm sorry that is just not acceptable."

Bolin, who also owns a local construction company, says rebuilding efforts in Paradise are underway using fire-resistant material, but the use of fire retardant is still critical when it comes to fighting fires.

"We are building and doing some very good things based on science," he said. "This isn't just what we think will work. They've actually tested these things and proved them to work in laboratories...but their whole thing is 'we got to build better?' That's very disappointing."

The USFS said it has not previously secured a permit and will try to secure one. That’s a process that can take a few years. A judge could halt legal proceedings in the meantime but plaintiffs say they might try to seek an injunction.


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