As the U.S. Forest Service fights dozens of wildfires across several states, it isn’t using one of the biggest weapons available: a converted Boeing 747 that can drop 19,000 gallons of flame retardant in a single run, covering a path 200 feet wide and up to 2 miles long.

And it won’t say why.

An Associated Press report out of Boise, Idaho, says Jim Wheeler of Global SuperTanker Services has filed a protest after the Forest Service set a 5,000-gallon limit for firefighting aircraft without offering an explanation. The Forest Service told the AP it can’t comment on use of the 747s because of Wheeler’s protest.

That circular reasoning leaves everybody in the dark.

Is this cost-cutting, as suggested by watchdog and firefighter advocacy groups? The Forest Service’s budget is severely affected by firefighting costs, which hit $1.6 billion in 2016.

Is this the result of added scrutiny from Congress, as suggested by the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association?

Is this an appropriate cut to pork-barrel spending, because the tankers have recently been used in ways in which they are not cost-effective, as suggested by watchdog group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics?

Andy Stahl, that group’s executive director, told the AP the tankers are more effective in early attack, not on fires that have spread.

DC-10s, which can carry only about 11,600 gallons, are being used by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to cover ridge tops.

A spokesperson told the AP they would definitely use the 747s if authorized.

Companies such as Global SuperTanker Services contribute to the nation’s firefighting capacity and need to know the Forest Service’s rationale so they can make good business decisions.

Communities facing devastation from wildfire need to know the Forest Service is making appropriate choices with taxpayer resources and providing the best protection possible.

The Forest Service needs to provide answers.

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