US Forest Service grounds Montana firefighting helicopters over water tanks

If the EPA isn’t screwing up with mine clean ups and harassing property owners for artificial lakes, The US Forest Service screws Montana residents during fire season. The Missoulian reports that the Western US is in the midst of an equipment shortage and the Environmental Pollution Agency has seen it fit to ground five helicopters that could be used to fight fires on federal and private lands with forests. If he were real, I am sure Smokey the Bear would be embarrassed if not outright quit.

Apparently, the helicopters in question do not have the right size buckets as required by law. 324-gallon containers used to scoop and drop water from Vietnam-era Bell UH-1 Hueys were supposed to be reworked and customized as MT-205s. A US Forest Service representative states this was a policy change his agency notified Montana about during 2014 in which the helicopter tanks in question were supposed to carry 100 gallons of less water.

A Montana state forest representative named Bob Harrington responded stating the adjustments made to the helicopters have expanded their power to permit them to securely convey the larger containers. Changing to smaller buckets, he said would diminish the adequacy of the helicopters and add vulnerability to the employments of the pilots and aircraft managers. Harrington further accused the Forest Service as treating Montana as a subsidiary and not an equal partner. The bureau is trying to shoulder Montana with responsibilities alien to its ability to operate an efficient wild fire suppression program.

Recently, wildfires spread rapidly as helicopter pilots could do nothing except wait for approved aircraft to assist with fire suppression efforts. There have been other times when state aircraft were even told not to take action. In an angry letter fired off from Montana Governor Steve Bullock to US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Governor stating:

At a time where a cohesive response to wildland fire is more critical than ever, I continue to be frustrated by this unwarranted and artificial limitation on interagency use of our aircraft.

The first priority during a life threatening incident should be to prevent and halt threats to life. The US Forest Service recklessly imposed a requirement (most likely geared toward saving water) that Montana helicopter tanks be replaced with ones that carry less water and prevents the ones not fitted with new tanks from helping fight wildfires. As a result it could lead to massive property damage and loss of life but the bureaucrats will not relent and let the grounded helicopters operate. This whole incident makes a joke out of the notion that the US Forest Service exists to help protect and preserve forests held by the US government and its broader job of protecting life and property.