Used by Permission of the Sacramento Bee

Critics fear Quincy forest bill cedes too much federal power to locals By Jane Braxton Little Bee Correspondent
Published on 07/05/1997, Page B1 , Article 8 of 9 found, 996 words.

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 economy.

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 Washington, D.C.

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 environmental groups.

"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 Committee.

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 said.

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 Group.

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 Sierra Nevada.

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 environmental laws.

The House could vote on it this month, said Steve Thompson, Herger's Washington aide.