Wildfire news, November 17, 2008

The debate about the use of retardant continues

As you probably know, the group “Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics” has a lawsuit against the U. S. Forest Service concerning the use of retardant on fires. In fact, for a while there was speculation that Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey might end up in jail.

The case is still working its way through the court system. In the meantime, the New York Times has a article about retardant. Here is an excerpt.

In the federal lawsuit in Montana, the Forest Service is being sued by a group of current and former employees and others who are demanding that the agency conduct a comprehensive environmental study of the impact of retardant under the Endangered Species Act. The suit cites a 2002 retardant drop on a river in central Oregon that killed 20,000 fish.

Current federal policy 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. By 2011, according to officials with the Forest Service in Montana, the most common type of retardant will have lower amounts of ammonia and will therefore be less harmful to fish and aquatic environments. Private companies have also used other chemicals to develop gels and foams that are popular among some firefighting agencies, though retardant is used by most.

The Forest Service says that the number of cases it has found where retardant affected waterways is so small — 14 out of thousands of retardant drops since 2000 — that mitigation measures already in place suffice.

In January, the judge in the Montana case, Donald W. Molloy, threatened to jail the head of the Forest Service, Mark Rey, and to halt its use of retardant because it did not respond to court orders on time. After a hearing the next month, Judge Molloy decided against jailing Mr. Rey and allowed the use of retardant to continue. But Judge Molloy let the case proceed, and last month the plaintiffs asked him to make a decision in the case.

“The chance of some stream being hit by retardant is virtually certain, and so, of course, you have to consider the consequences,” said Andy Stahl, executive director of the group that brought the suit, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. “It’s already happened 14 times.”

Montana fire contractor convicted; lied about pack test

From the Great Falls Tribune:

HELENA — A man who contracted with the U.S. Forest Service to fight wildfires in 2003 awaits sentencing for telling the agency incorrectly that personnel he provided had passed a mandatory physical fitness test.

A federal jury last week convicted Bitterroot Valley resident Jay M. Gasvoda of making false statements to a federal agency. The conviction, handed down in U.S. District Court in Missoula, likely will be appealed after Gasvoda is sentenced Feb. 6, defense attorney Martin Judnich said.

“I never lied about a thing,” Gasvoda said in a telephone interview Friday. “I was set up by some people that I fired.” Any inaccuracies in his contract information were unintentional, he said.

The Forest Service requires firefighters to have passed a fitness test [pack test] by walking three miles in 45 minutes while carrying a 45-pound backpack. They also must complete survival instruction.

Comment on Quadrennial Fire Review

Until November 30th you can comment on the (wildland fire) Quadrennial Fire Review. Send your comments to Achyde@aol.com

Here is the way the review is described in the introduction to the document:

In 2004, the U.S. Forest Service, the four U. S. Department of Interior agencies and their state, local, and tribal partners that constitute the wildland fire community chartered the first Quadrennial Fire Review (QFR). Like its predecessor, this 2009 Quadrennial Fire Review is designed as a strategic evaluative process that develops an internal assessment of current programs and capabilities for comparison to future needs for fire management. In terms of time frame; projections of future conditions and risks potentially affecting fire management are longer term –set in a 10 to 20 year reference timeframe. While strategies for new mission requirements and building new capabilities are near term — defined in a 4 to 5 year period.

The QFR is based on the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review model which for the past two decades has served as a vehicle for the military to reexamine shifts in military strategy and changes in organizational tactics and capabilities. Conceptually, the intention of the QFR is to use the four year interval between reviews as an opportunity to reassess the future environment in wildland fire, summarize shifts in mission, roles and responsibilities, and agency relationships and chart new course directions for fire management. It should also be noted that the QFR is not a plan or a policy making document. It contains no recommendations, action items, or time tables. As an interagency assessment, it is purely advisory in tone. Its value is that it reaffirms interagency fire management priorities and outlines investment decisions for the future.

IAFC TV

The International Association of Fire Chiefs and TV Worldwide has launched IAFC TV…

“…an innovative Internet television channel that will serve as an interactive, informative and educational resource for the fire and emergency service communities worldwide. IAFC TV will present newscasts, town hall meetings, coverage of IAFC conferences, interviews with fire service leaders and emergency alerts.”

A quick look at the videos that are available on the site shows that they have a “Monthly Newscast”, quite a few videos that are specifically about the IAFC, and some that are on a variety of subjects, such as communication, emergency response maps, and leadership. The site has a wildland section but it has nothing in it except “videos will be available soon”.

I wonder if the introduction of this “channel” has anything to do with the rumored bankruptcy of the Fire and Emergency Television Network?

More information from the IAFC about the new channel is HERE.