Remember when Smokey the Bear was a hero to all of us? He reminded us to becareful with matches and campfires when in the forest, to prevent fires thatwould cost a lot of money, and often much worse, both for our furry forestfriends and the humans trying to protect them. Just like the Tooth Fairy and theEaster Bunny, however, Smokey has become a dim recollection from our naive pastwhile the mega-agency he once proudly represented has become the 900 poundgorilla, in many cases doing more harm than good.
Wildland firefighting has become a major seasonal business for thousands ofvendors under USFS contract. Inflated prices on items such as equipment, fuel,box lunches, bottled water, Porta-Johns, clothing, snacks, Etc. has turnedwildland firefighting into a multi-billion dollar enterprise for many, while ourbrave firefighters are forced to risk their lives, relying on outdated andinefficient apparatus supplied by “good ol’ boy” USFS contractors.
How so?….For decades, the USFS has demanded the use of a toxic, corrosive, andexpensive fire “retardant” in all its contracted air tankers. Until itwas successfully sued by a group of its own workers (Forest Service Employeesfor Environmental Ethics) forcing the agency to discontinue its use,approximately 30,000,000 gallons of the Cyanide-based chemical poisoned ourenvironment each year, often causing massive fish kills in the affected areas.By the USFS’s own statements the $2.00 per gallon fire retardant does not stopfires. It merely retards the growth until ground crews can arrive on scene. Thenwhy use it in the first place when there are much more efficient, safer and lessexpensive ($.17 per gallon) chemicals available that have the Presidential GreenChemistry Award, are 100% effective at actually extinguishing the flames andkeeping them from reigniting up to 3,000 degrees. Ask the USFS….
Why didn’t more USFS leaders go to prison when they were caught transferringseveral modern C-130 aircraft, worth more than $300,000,000, from the USAF toprivate contractors ( “60 Minutes” – “Some of Our Planes areMissing”). Ask the USFS….
How has the USFS been successful in keeping the world’s largest, and mosteffective firefighting air tanker OUT of U.S. service for more than a decade,while continuing to sign contracts to utilize small, antique (WWII-vintage),ineffective and, often unsafe air tankers to protect our nation from theever-increasing damage, injuries and deaths caused by the annual wildland fires?Since 1995 ( when it was recommended for use by the USFS’s own aviation expert)six of the remarkable IL-76 Waterbombers have been offered for service. Each ofthese planes can easily stop a raging wildfire over an area equal to twelvefootball fields in less than fifteen seconds! They do it routinely worldwide.They have NEVER lost a fire, nor had an accident on the dangerous missions. Theyare equipped with heat-seeking radar for safe, 24-hour operation, unlike theprivate U.S. fleet which is prohibited from flying at night due to the lack ofsuch sophisticated equipment. Aviation experts predict the IL-76s could cut thewildland firefighting losses by as much as 50% and stop the large fires in afraction of the time it now takes. Want answers? Don’t ask the USFS…They havenone. They only know how to ask for more money, not less. And then there is theproblem of what to do with the millions of dollars worth of bottled water andboxed lunches that will be purchased in anticipation of the longer and moredestructive fire season planned for next year.