A compromise in Sierra: Future timber debates
should avoid Congress
(Published Oct. 17, 1997)
In 1993, a small group of Sierra environmentalists, loggers and local politicians
opted for compromise rather than combat after years of fighting over how to
manage the Plumas National Forest. They met at the Quincy library, where no one
could shout. It didn't take long to reach agreement, largely along the lines of a
moderate proposal by environmentalists back in the clear-cut 1980s. What has
taken much longer is to get the plan enacted.
Frustrated by the slow pace of change, the Quincy Library Group has taken its case
straight to Congress with a bill forcing the adoption of its logging plan. National
environmental organizations that were once their friends suddenly became foes.
They oppose Congress' enacting logging plans for specific forests. (The Sierra
Club opposes any commercial logging in public forests.)
But the environmental establishment seems powerless to stop the Quincy Library
Group. The legislation, with some improvements suggested by environmental
groups, is sailing through Congress. Absent some unexpected turn of events, the
Plumas, Lassen and part of the Tahoe national forests will soon embark on a
five-year experiment. It will answer whether the Quincy strategy -- cutting small
and medium trees to lessen the danger of fires and to re-establish once-dominant
species such as pine -- makes sense.
The Quincy process makes some sense, given the alternative, which is to limp
along with fluctuating harvests based more on politics and Forest Service
orthodoxy than sustainable, environmentally sensitive forestry. But Clinton
administration officials are wrong to hold up the Quincy Library Group as a model
for how to resolve environmental conflicts. The group's legislative approach, while
understandable, reflects the failure to find common ground without congressional
meddling. The U.S. Forest Service, not Congress, should guide us toward
predictable harvests for the timber industry while satisfying environmental concerns
by protecting streams, roadless areas, threatened species and old-growth timber.
Fundamental reform would be one that motivated the Forest Service to do that.
The Quincy plan has a reasonable balance. About a fourth of the forest is off-limits
to logging, including all expanses without roads. So are all trees 30 inches in
diameter or greater. The acres harvested in these forests, now about 70,000
annually, will remain the same. But the volume of harvested timber will increase as
loggers establish fire protection zones by removing an artificially dense buildup of
While the Quincy plan deserves a chance, we don't need more congressional
solutions like this one. This group came along at an important time in history to
kick start a much-needed rethinking on sustainable logging. Ultimately, the U.S.
Forest Service, on the sidelines in Quincy, should be the key player in channeling
the energy of local residents to help make peace in rural communities while
maintaining consistent national logging policies. In the forests, the political middle
should not be such a lonely place.
Critics fear Quincy forest bill cedes too much
federal power to locals
By Jane Braxton Little
(Published July 5, 1997)
QUINCY -- When the Quincy Library Group launched its 1993 plan to manage
2.5 million acres of three national forests, it was hailed from the Sierra forests to
congressional offices as a win-win solution for the ecosystem and the local
Recently, however, legislation designed to make proposals developed by the group
a federal law has provoked furious opposition, and the debate has grown far
beyond the fate of the land managed by the alliance of environmentalists, timber
industry and local officials.
At stake, both sides say, is whether local consensus-building should be used to
determine the future of lands owned in common by all Americans.
The Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery and Economic Stability Act,
introduced in February by Rep. Wally Herger, R-Marysville, is "a disastrous piece
of legislation," said Jim Jontz, director of the Western Ancient Forest Campaign in
It would set a dangerous precedent by allowing a small group of local residents to
determine how federal land is managed, said opponents, including more than 50
"It's a lousy bill and it excludes 99 percent of the Americans who have an equal
stake in national forests," said Louis Blumberg, a spokesman for the Wilderness
Society in San Francisco.
But Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, defended both the bill and the idea of deeply
involving local groups in federal land-use decisions.
The legislation developed by the 41 members of the Quincy Library Group is a
"good government proposal ... an idea from their backyard that will benefit the
public resources of this nation," said Young, chairman of the House Resources
Federal land management should be guided by local consensus groups, said
Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. "Local interests ought to lead land-use
decisions. We have to give some weight to national interests, but decisions are
made best when they are led by local areas," Glickman said.
Its defenders say the Quincy Library Group bill is being held to more scrutiny than
any other national forest management plan in the Sierra.
"We've risen to their higher standard," said Linda Blum, a Quincy environmentalist
and member of the coalition, which took its name from the only neutral place where
its members could initially agree to meet. "The protections we will enforce here are
greater than anywhere else."
Herger's legislation would require U.S. Forest Service managers to reduce the
threat of fire during a five-year pilot project by removing timber -- much of it dead
and dying -- from up to 60,000 acres a year in the northern third of the Sierra
Nevada. In place of 40-acre clear-cut blocks, the legal limit under current Forest
Service regulations, the coalition proposes to harvest trees singly or in small groups
of up to two acres.
The goal is to return the forest to the open, fire-resistant state it enjoyed before the
arrival of European settlers, said Plumas County Supervisor Bill Coates,
co-founder of the Quincy Library Group. The logs harvested from the Plumas,
Lassen and Sierraville District of the Tahoe national forest would provide lumber
for local sawmills, the major employers in the Quincy Library Group area.
But critics of Herger's bill said it would increase logging by as much as twice the
current level without scientific analysis of the environmental effects. The fuel
breaks would focus logging activity on ridge tops, fragmenting the forest and
increasing the risk of erosion along steep slopes, Blumberg said.
Steve Evans, conservation director for Friends of the River in Sacramento, opposes
the bill because it does not protect plants and animals along stream banks. Although
the Quincy Library Group originally agreed to exclude logging in riparian zones,
Herger's bill would allow logging there under certain conditions.
The discrepancies between the bill and the coalition's 1993 plan have created some
of the opposition to the legislation, said Evans, who attended many of the group's
meetings and helped define its land base.
"What makes the coalition unique is the consensus it reached. The bill only
addresses one part of that consensus," Evans said.
Michael B. Jackson, a Quincy environmental attorney and Library Group
co-founder, defended Herger's bill as an accurate reflection of the coalition's plan
for forest management. Elements of the plan that the bill does not specifically
mention are already operating effectively through existing national forest plans, he
Beyond the specifics of the bill itself, it is the use of legislation to solve a local
land-use problem that has provoked much of the rancor over the Quincy Library
If this bill succeeds, grass-roots groups everywhere could propose legislation
tailoring management of nationally owned lands to meet their local needs, said Sally
Miller, president of Friends of the Inyo, a conservation group based in the eastern
That prospect worries Miller. She believes, instead, that "all Americans (should)
have a say in how their public lands are managed."
Other opponents said the legislation is unnecessary. All of the goals sought by the
Quincy Library Group could be achieved more effectively through administrative
changes within the Forest Service, said Paul Spitler, a Western Ancient Forest
Campaign spokesman in Davis.
Blum agreed that the goals of the coalition could be accomplished administratively.
"But it hasn't happened yet -- not in four years," she said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she plans to introduce legislation later this
month that will order the Forest Service to make those changes and provide funds
to do it. Her bill would create a shorter pilot project, probably for one year instead
of the five years proposed by Herger, and would include a $7 million appropriation
for it, she said. It also will state that the work must comply with all federal
The House could vote on it this month, said Steve Thompson, Herger's
Fallout from a logging consensus in the Sierra
By Tom Philp
Bee Editorial Writer
(Published Nov. 9, 1997)
In 1995, Michael Jackson, a long-time environmental activist and Sierra Club
member, grew so tired of fighting the timber industry that he voted in a club
election to end all commercial logging in national forests.
Yet at the same time he was joining Sierra Club members to push the organization
in a more radical direction, Jackson, as a community leader and citizen, was busy
seeking common ground between environmentalists and the loggers. In an effort
that has since gained national attention, he had been negotiating with the timber
industry in the Sierra community of Quincy to come up with a mutually acceptable
Jackson and his fellow consensus builders, known as the Quincy Library Group,
have been courting a friendly Congress to launch a dramatically new logging
strategy for the northern Sierra. The U.S. Forest Service will test on a massive
scale -- 70,000 acres a year of the Plumas, Lassen and Tahoe national forests over
the next five years -- a way of logging that leaves the big trees still standing.
It is a watershed moment in the modern political history of this mountain range. Yet
the occasion is bittersweet for Jackson, a longtime Quincy attorney.
Jackson has been bruised by a head-on collision between rural and urban
environmentalists, a conflict he, in small part, helped create. He says he thinks that
because activists like him told the Sierra Club to oppose commercial logging in
national forests, the club now fights his Quincy Library Group.
"The reason the environmentalists are so upset is that we think this will have
environmental benefit," said Jackson. "They don't want to admit that ever. It
doesn't fit their zero-logging approach."
The bitterness over the Quincy Library Group exposes conflicts in resource politics
that transcend the Sierra.
For environmental groups, the question is how to take bold policy stands on issues
like logging while still leaving room, if that is the desire, for compromise.
And for all the national organizations that have historically dominated the
Washington debate over logging policy, the question is whether local
consensus-building efforts in rural communities erode their traditional influence
The Quincy Group's success has exposed what happens when a town ready for
change takes on the national environmental groups. Longing for economic stability,
locals were eager to find common ground even if it meant abandoning previously
"It is easy to take the moral high ground when you don't live in these
communities," said Tom Nelson, a forester with Sierra Pacific Industries, the
biggest logger in the region, who negotiated with the Quincy environmentalists. "It
is tougher when you have to face these people every day."
After three fruitless years of trying to get the Forest Service to amend its Plumas
management plans to conform with its consensus plan, the Quincy Group this year
tested Congress' interest. Congress turned out to be more interested in Quincy than
many in Quincy were ready to believe. The Quincy plan gave legislators the rarest
of opportunities: a bill with the aura of environmental correctness that still tells the
U.S. Forest Service where to cut trees, and how many.
The Quincy legislation would permit an intensive logging technique on roughly the
same amount of acreage that is presently harvested. Most of the logging on 70,000
acres would involve the clearing of brush and trees, except for the oldest, for the
purpose of promoting a fire-resistant forest. Anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000
acres would be logged with miniature clear-cuts around the largest trees to create,
after replanting, a forest with trees of varying ages. "I certainly didn't anticipate the
legislation," said Wayne Thornton, who was supervisor of the Plumas National
Forest when the group was formed. "Nobody really knew how far a group of
citizens like this could go."
For Quincy environmentalists, the national limelight of 1997 is a long way from the
dark days of 1988, when the Forest Service unveiled its long-term plan for the
Plumas. Loggers over many years had cut more trees in this 1.2-million-acre
stretch of Sierra than in the range's nine other national forests. The 1988 plan
would have extended the cut, and even increased it, for years to come.
The service planned to emphasize clear-cuts (its less offensive term at the time,
"even-age management") for 185 million to 265 million board feet of green timber
harvests every year. In comparison, the Plumas this year plans to offer for sale
only 25 million board-feet of timber, both green and dying from fire and insect
A coalition of environmentalists in 1986 had proposed an alternate plan which
emphasized the thinning of dense understories of timber and small clear-cuts
around larger trees. Logging would be prohibited in roadless areas, old-growth
stands and near rivers and streams.
In the go-go years of the clear-cut 1980s, the plan was downright radical to many
in the timber industry and Forest Service. And it was quickly dismissed.
The lack of interest from the Forest Service left activists like Linda Blum no
alternative but to try to stop logging by filing administrative appeals of specific
sales. That meant driving deep into the forest to review every logging site and write
lengthy documents. The technique typically delayed logging but did not stop it. In
recent years activists had no legal right to appeal the logging they hated most, sales
of dead timber in roadless areas that had been scorched by fire.
"As a grass-roots activist, I couldn't keep it up," said Blum, a self-employed
environmental consultant who has lived in Quincy for five years. "It wasn't
IN 1992, the tide turned. There was the election of Bill Clinton and new
leadership at the Forest Service that sought a reduction in timber sales. Looming
even larger was mounting concern among wildlife biologists that California Spotted
Owls were threatened by the loss of old-growth timber stands.
Suddenly the cut was down. Way down.
"We were literally crashing the economy of this area," said Thornton.
One morning late in 1992, Jackson's phone rang at his law office in Quincy. On the
other end of the line was the enemy, long-time logging advocate and Plumas
Supervisor Bill Coates. To Jackson's surprise, Coates had a deal in mind. That
long-shelved 1986 logging strategy by the environmentalists suddenly didn't look
so bad. It was time to talk.
And talk they did. The place -- Quincy's library, a public setting that demanded a
low-decibel tone to conversation. At the core of discussions were Coates, Jackson,
and Nelson of Sierra Pacific.
"Every time I looked at them, I saw almost shadows looming behind them of larger
constituencies," said Thornton of the Forest Service, who attended some of the
meetings. The groups they represented "weren't sure that these individuals were
doing what these larger constituencies wanted."
For months it was unclear whether the negotiators could reach any agreement. At
one point, Thornton got too exasperated to stay in the library. "I stomped off down
the street with new shoes," he said. "I got blisters."
But on July 10, 1993, all sides agreed on a logging strategy to present to Quincy.
About 150 locals came to a town hall meeting. There was a show of hands. Only
four were raised in opposition. For the moment, there was peace in the Plumas.
In hindsight local environmental activist John Preschutti said everyone was naive
about the timetable that loomed ahead. At most, Preschutti had thought it would
take the Forest Service two years to come up with a new, formal logging plan that
took into account the old-growth needs of the owls. The Quincy Library Group's
plan was just for the interim.
At the time, he thought "how much truly can (loggers) do in two years?" he said.
The more that national groups like the Sierra Club looked at the plan, the more they
didn't like it. "We were working throughout the whole time to reduce the cut," said
Barbara Boyle, regional director for the Sierra Club. "Clearly there was
over-cutting in the 1980s."
The Forest Service, meanwhile, was proceeding at a slow pace on settling how to
simultaneously log and save the owls. More than four years after the Quincy
discussions were launched, no final plan existed.
"The Forest Service was not responsive initially on the ground to the concerns of
the community," said Jim Lyons, the undersecretary of the U.S. Department of
Food and Agriculture who oversees forestry issues. "I think it could have been
more responsive to putting the [Quincy] strategy in place or doing something akin
Meanwhile, the local and national environmental groups weren't tying up logging
by appealing sales. "Because we were not appealing, because the Quincy people
weren't appealing, there's been very little crisis," said Jay Watson, regional
director of the Wilderness Society.
Maybe not from his perspective. But back in Quincy, life "wasn't standing still,"
said Blum, the Quincy environmental consultant. A devastating fire in 1994 near
Loyalton had raised local awareness of fire's threat not just to timber as a resource
but also to timber's environmental role. The lack of a plan and the growing fire
danger put everyone's interests at risk. "It wasn't loggers versus owls that was the
unresolved issue," she said. "It was owls versus fire."
Unwilling to wait any longer for change, the group in 1996 approached its local
congressman, Republican Wally Herger. Well aware of the group, he quickly
converted its plan into a piece of legislation.
Yet when Blum saw what Herger submitted to Congress, she hardly recognized it.
"I was horrified," she said. "It had all this Republican rhetoric. It was just
pro-timber industry rhetoric."
The Quincy Group, said Watson of the Wilderness Society, was naive about the
ways of Congress. "They expected not a single change to be made," he said. "The
legislative process is the ultimate arena of compromise. Obviously changes were
going to be made."
The subsequent changes have largely been to the liking of environmental groups,
amending Herger's bill to reflect more of the balance of the original Quincy plan.
Yet the very precedent of a local group's ramming its agreement through Congress
has triggered a controversy that won't be as easily smoothed.
The name-calling within the environmental community has been particularly fierce.
Jackson bristled when he read a full-page ad in the Sept. 24 New York Times that
blasted the Quincy group, including him, as "industry-picked."
The national environmental groups "don't want the precedent of a local community
talking to each other," said Jackson. "It is a matter of power and control."
Boyle of the Sierra Club denies that. "I think everyone has a role to play," she said.
"These are federal lands. They have greater purposes than contributing to the local
"Just because a group of local people can come to agreement doesn't mean that it is
good public policy," says Watson of the Wilderness Society, which doesn't have a
zero-logging policy but still opposes the Quincy plan.
Not everyone in Quincy is behind this compromise, particularly environmentalists
like Preschutti who want to see an eventual halt to all logging in the forests.
Congress meanwhile has had a lovefest over Quincy. In the House of
Representatives, only one member (a Texan who doesn't like the federal
government owning land) voted against Herger's bill. California Senators Barbara
Boxer and Dianne Feinstein like the Quincy plan so much that they are co-authoring
their house's version of the measure.
"It is rewarding that a group of local citizens can take their ideas to a local
representative and take it through the whole process," said Nelson of Sierra Pacific.
"It is how democracy is supposed to work. That is what I learned in school."
The northern Sierra heads toward an uncertain future.
A scenario of peace and consensus-building goes something like this: The Forest
Service embraces the new Quincy logging strategy over the next five years, the
timespan of the bill. It honors concerns by national environmental groups, such as
staying out of old-growth stands. And it takes a more open approach in its own
brainstorming process, now under way, to craft a new long-term logging plan for
"Clearly we need to do a better job of changing the planning process to be more
user-friendly and encourage more community input," said Lyons, the Agriculture
Yet a scenario of continuing conflict is equally plausible: The Quincy plan could
remain shelved if Congress fails to appropriate any of the millions in additional
dollars needed to implement it. And environmental groups could tie up the plan in
court by challenging it. "If there's any kind of opening for that, it would be done,"
Whether the Quincy plan will bring a more peaceful consensus future to forest
policy in the Sierra or break down in renewed conflict, nobody yet knows. But
now there is at least a vision of consensus. Without the Quincy Library Group,
there would have been none.
House OKs plan to cut danger of forest fires
By Jane Braxton Little
(Published July 10, 1997)
Federal legislation that grew out of a compromise between local
environmentalists and the timber industry sailed through the House Wednesday on
a 429-1 vote, reflecting a similar spirit of collaboration between pro-industry and
The bill, modeled after a 1993 forest management plan developed by the Quincy
Library Group, directs the U.S. Forest Service to conduct a five-year pilot project
to reduce the threat of fire and improve the condition of watersheds and
mountainsides on 2.5 million acres of national forest land.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she would introduce identical legislation in
the Senate today. Using the House bill authored by Rep. Wally Herger,
R-Marysville, is the fastest way to get legislation signed by the president and the
work started in the woods, Feinstein said Wednesday.
In Quincy, members of the Quincy Library Group celebrated both the House
passage of their plan and last-minute negotiations that gave it overwhelming
approval in Washington. Linda Blum, a Quincy environmentalist, called it a vote of
confidence for communities and for solving problems.
"Most people don't want to fight. Most people really want to find solutions," said
Blum, a member of the group that took its name from the only neutral place where
members could agree to meet.
Rep. Vic Fazio, D-West Sacramento, said passage of the bill he co-sponsored
proves the value of reaching consensus, the process used by the Quincy Library
Group throughout its four-year history.
Opposition to the bill faded after Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, a timber industry
advocate, and Rep. George Miller, D-Pleasant Hill, a staunch environmentalist,
agreed on several amendments. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, cast the lone no vote.
The Quincy coalition plan aims to reduce the danger of wildfire by removing dead
and dying timber from up to 60,000 acres a year on the Plumas, Lassen and Tahoe
national forests. Logging would be by single trees or in small groups of up to two
The goal is to return the forest to the open, fire-resistant state European settlers
found when they first arrived, said Plumas County Supervisor Bill Coates, a
co-founder of the group. The harvested logs would provide lumber for local
Despite the coalition's promise to protect wilderness and environmentally sensitive
areas, environmentalists representing local, regional and national groups opposed
The project area is too large and the pilot period too long, said Louis Blumberg of
the Wilderness Society in San Francisco.
Quincy alliance spawns forest bill
By Jane Braxton Little
(Published Sept 19, 1996)
Federal legislation introduced Wednesday aims to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in northern
Sierra Nevada forests by using management innovations developed by the Quincy Library Group.
The measure would establish a five-year pilot project on three national forests to test a "common-sense
plan" by the alliance of environmentalists, timber industry and local officials, said Rep. Wally Herger,
In addition to protecting local communities from fire, the measure would benefit local economies by
generating logs for processing in sawmills, said Herger, who introduced the legislation.
"It's a win-win proposition for our forests and our forest-dependent communities," he said.
Members of the Quincy Library Group, so named because it was the only neutral meeting place
members of the alliance could agree on in 1993, said the bill grew out of frustration with current land
management practices on 2.5 million acres of federal land on the Plumas, Lassen and Tahoe national
forests in northeastern California.
Under the plan, some parts of the forests would be harvested heavily while others were left untouched,
said Tom Nelson, a Sierra Pacific Industries forester who helped bring former enemies together on the
The legislation would require the Forest Service to reduce forest fuels on 50,000 acres a year. Even at
that rate, it could take 34 years to treat the entire area, said Bill Coates, a Plumas County supervisor and
co-founder of the coalition.
"Anything slower and we start losing communities to fire. Right now, we're on a 900-year pace," said
By logging the smaller, crowded trees and leaving the larger more fire-resistant trees in the forest, the
bill aims to decrease the risk of catastrophic wildfire. It prohibits timber harvests on environmentally
sensitive land except in emergency situations when the lack of action could create greater damage than
Thinning prescribed in the bill would provide enough material to keep Sierra Pacific and other local
sawmills in operation, said Herger, who praised the community alliance for providing a model for
forest management adapted to the needs of a specific area.
"If we have learned anything in the past few years about forest management in California, it is that one
size does not fit all and that the best ideas most often come from the people who live and work in the
forest," Herger said.
The plan is designed to return the three national forests to a more natural state, protecting watershed and
wildlife habitat while still providing for logging.
The bill is an invitation to other communities to develop their own proposals for local forest
management, Herger said.
Last November, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman pledged $4.7 million to the U.S. Forest
Service for fuel reduction, watershed restoration and other projects consistent with the Quincy Library
Since then, however, Forest Service workers have accomplished very little work on the ground, said
Linda Blum, an environmentalist and coalition member. The legislation would make such projects
"This is to get them off the dime -- to do this work and do it right," said Blum.
Forest Service officials declined to comment on the legislation as a matter of agency policy. They have
supported Quincy Library Group efforts in the past and share many common goals, said Matt Mathes, a
Forest Service spokesman in San Francisco.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer is studying the coalition's proposal for possible legislation in the Senate, said
spokesman David Sangretti. She is scheduled to meet with coalition members today.