EDITORIAL -- Sierra Logging Bill Needs Major Revisions
October 21, 1997
THE U.S. SENATE Energy and Natural Resources Committee is about to consider a
Sierra-logging bill that is based on a flimsy scientific premise.
This legislation (S 1028) is fraught with problems. It would require the U.S. Forest
Service to allow at least 40,000 acres of logging each year in a 2.5 million acre stretch
of government-owned timber land in the northern Sierra -- a management area
encompassing all of Lassen and Plumas national forests and part of Tahoe National
Forest -- as a fire-prevention scheme. In essence, the logging would create ``fire
breaks'' to keep minor blazes from turning into major conflagrations.
The trouble is, the ``fire break'' approach is highly questionable. Scientific studies
have shown that aggressive logging can actually increase the risk of wildfire by
leaving highly flammable slash in its aftermath, and allowing the growth of dense
brush to replace the more fire-resistant trees. This bill sanctions the escalation of
commercial logging, but does not require the other measures to reduce fire fuels.
Moreover, the bill could lead to logging in areas identified as old-growth forests and
sensitive watersheds in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, a congressionally
commissioned survey of the mountain range.
No wonder 140 conservation groups, including nearly all of the national and regional
environmental players of any consequence, have opposed this bill. Even taxpayers
who have no particular love of the outdoors should be concerned about S 1028. The
Congressional Budget Office projects that it would cost $83 million to implement the
bill's five-year logging plan.
So how did the bill, introduced by Representative Wally Herger, R-Chico, ever clear
the House on a 429-1 vote? And how did it gain the Senate sponsorship of Dianne
Feinstein, D-California, who is usually attentive on conservation and fiscal matters?
This bill has been advancing without resistance because it has been characterized as a
model of locally developed collaboration. Its orgins trace back to a series of 1993
meetings between loggers, environmentalists and elected officials at the local library in
Quincy, a town of 2,700.
The Quincy Library Group should be applauded for its efforts, and its ability to
achieve a consensus. But its decisions should not be held sacrosanct, as now appears
to be the case on Capitol Hill. The Quincy negotiators are not the only ones who will
have to live with the consequences of this bill. National forests belong to all
Americans. The Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is expected
to take up S 1028 tomorrow, should include amendments that would limit the fire-
break experiment to a small test area, protect all known environmentally sensitive areas
and reduce the amount of taxpayer subsidy in this Sierra logging venture.
AN OVERDONE EDITORial
Editor -- Your alarmist ``Sierra Logging Bill'' editorial (October 21) inaccurately
implies that the fuel breaks to be provided by S1028 will ``increase the risk of wildfire
by leaving highly flammable slash in its aftermath, and allowing the growth of dense
brush to replace the more fire-resistant trees.''
Nonsense! The program will establish a system of shaded fuelbreaks by the removal
of dense undergrowth that could carry flames from the ground into the crowns of
larger trees, creating catastrophic fires. Small material is converted to chips and hauled
from the site. The result is an open, park-like forest with the larger trees about 20 feet
apart. There is greater biodiversity and improved wildlife habitat. You can see for
yourself by driving along Highway 89 between Truckee and Sierraville in the Tahoe
National Forest. This work cannot be accomplished by controlled burning alone,
because of the large amount of fuel and the current regulations protecting the quality of
the air from pollution by smoke. The bill specifically requires close compliance with all
existing environmental regulations, including the protection of spotted owls and
GEORGE A. CRAIG
SAVE SIERRA FORESTS
Editor -- Not only am I opposed to the Quincy Library Group bill, which your editorial
(October 21) astutely criticizes, I am also opposed to the subsidized logging of
America's National Forests.
Many Americans don't know that the federal government wastes almost a billion
taxpayer dollars a year on ``timber sales'' to private corporations that log on public
With 95 percent of America's original forest gone, I demand that my government
protect the precious forest remaining on public lands. Such protection is vital to air and
water quality, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for all citizens. A recent
Forest Service study predicted that in the near future more money will be raised
through recreational uses of intact forests than through logging forests. And polls
show that citizen overwhelmingly oppose exploitation of National Forests. Yet the
Forest Service perversely continues to sell off public assets to private logging
This Congress may soon be considering a bill that would eliminate logging on
National Forests and redirect a portion of the subsidy to assist timber workers. This
bill is fiscally responsible and environmentally sane.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
FEINSTEIN'S CASE FOR THE SIERRA LOGGING BILL
Editor -- I would like to correct your October 21 editorial, ``Sierra Logging Bill Needs
Major Revisions,'' which inaccurately states that the pending Quincy Library Group
bill would escalate commercial logging in the Plumas, Lassen and Tahoe national
forests. To the best of my knowledge this is not the case.
Wednesday, the U.S. Forest Service in a letter to me states that:
``. . . based on the agency's current estimates, the potential timber outputs that would
generated by this bill, if fully funded with additional appropriations, would not double
but would remain consistent with the outputs provided from these forests over the last
``In fiscal year 1992, 254 million board-feet of timber were offered for sale; In FY
'93, it was 288 million; In FY '94, it was 185 million; In FY '95, it was 261 million;
In FY '96, it was 254 million.''
To make one more point, this bill protects environmentally sensitive lands, including
roadless areas and all California spotted owl habitat areas, as well as areas designated
by the Quincy Library Group Plan as off base or deferred. Placing these areas off
limits to logging and road construction should protect areas identified as old-growth
and sensitive watersheds in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project.
Additionally, the resources committee directed the Forest Service to avoid conducting
timber harvest or road construction in these late successional old-growth areas.
Thank you for the opportunity to correct the record.
Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN Washington
A BAD PRECEDENT
Editor -- Your editorial on the Quincy Library Group Plan was right on the mark. A
small group of people meeting in a library in Quincy have no right to set policy for two
national forests and part of another. Approving this bill will set a dangerous precedent
for similar approaches in other parts of the country. In fact, Representative Helen
Chenowith, R-Idaho, has already introduced H.R. 2458, which would provide for a
similar approach in Idaho national forests.
That Representative Chenowith, who is infamous for her inane remarks on
environmental matters, should be in favor of such a bill is, in itself, a tip-off as to just
how bad this bill is. Senators Feinstein and Boxer should rethink their position on this
ROGER L. DUBA
EDITORIAL -- Who Should Determine The Fate of a Forest?
THE TIMBER WARS of the west are defined by their polarizing icons. The spotted
owl. Charles Hurwitz. The marbled murrelet. James Watt. Earth First!
Now comes the Quincy Library Group, which is fast gaining legendary status on
Capitol Hill as a rare symbol of civility and collaboration.
In fact, some members of Congress are so impressed by the warm-and-fuzzy notion of
loggers, environmentalists and politicians working together that they are ready to let
this group dictate policy for 2.5 million acres of federal forest in the northern Sierra.
This scheme needs a closer look, however.
It started in late 1992, when a Plumas County supervisor, a local environmental
attorney and a Sierra Pacific Industries forester got together to see whether they could
resolve their differences.
They met in the only place in Quincy where they were guaranteed not to scream at each
other -- the public library.
``After 15 years of fighting . . . the idea that we would sit in one room and recognize
each other's right to exist was a new one,'' said Michael Jackson, the environmental
attorney in the group.
More locals soon joined in. They kept the shouting down and within months,
remarkably, a compromise took shape. They decided that their goals were not
incompatible after all. They found a way to have it all -- keep the loggers and mill
workers busy, lower the risk of catastrophic wildfires and protect environmentally
heir plan involves an ambitious five-year experiment -- encompassing all of Lassen
and Plumas national forests, and part of Tahoe National Forest. It calls for the U.S.
Forest Service to sanction at least 40,000 acres of logging a year as part of a
fire-prevention program and to sell another 10,000 acres of timber of various ages.
Since the Forest Service had neither the money nor the inclination to adopt such an
aggressive timber-harvesting plan, the group turned to Representative Wally Herger,
R- Chico. His legislation (HR 858) would force the USFS to carry out the proposal.
One of the biggest concerns about the plan is that it relies on an untested theory -- that
a system of logger-cleared ``fuel breaks'' in the forest will help contain major fires.
Don Erman, a professor at the University of California at Davis who recently headed
up a science team as part of a congressionally ordered overview of the Sierra Nevada
ecosystem, raised significant questions about a plan that might ``look good on paper.''
Will the logging be accompanied by equal attention to the non-lucrative aspects of the
fire- prevention operation -- such as taking out brush and debris? And will the
cleared-out areas become home to even more flammable species of trees and brush?
``What's this going to look like when they're finished?'' asked Erman, suggesting the
idea should be tested on a smaller scale. ``Is this going to just be a linear logging show
under the guise of protecting the forest?''
There are plenty of reasons to believe that the Herger bill, recently passed by the
House Resources Committee, tilts strongly toward the timber industry's interest. For
example, the bill allows the Forest Service to shift money from other programs
(wildlife protection, recreation, grazing) to carry out this experimental logging
program. It leapfrogs some federal environmental laws and pre- empts other forest
management plans for the next five years, including those that might take a more
comprehensive or conservation- minded approach to the Sierra.
The bias of the Herger bill is also underscored by what it did not include.
Early on, the Quincy group embraced a ``working circle'' concept. They agreed that
trees cut in the nearby woods would have to be milled in Quincy
--not shipped off to Redding or even a foreign country. That requirement was later
dropped at Sierra Pacific's insistence.
Moreover, though the bill is loaded with timber-harvesting mandates, it provides scant
extra environmental protection in return. ``This is not the Quincy Library Group . . .
this is the hijacking of the Quincy Library Group,'' said Representative George Miller,
D-Calif., who unsuccessfully tried to tighten the bill's ecological safeguards.
``It's as if the Library Group plan is cast in stone,'' said Louis Blumberg of the
Wilderness Society. ``They talk about this as a collaborative process, but they don't
want to collaborate with anyone else.''
Jackson and other participants bristle at the suggestion they were co-opted or rolled by
the industry and its allies in Congress. He especially takes issue with the criticism
from national environmental groups that too much old growth would be left
``We live here; we've walked most of the old-growth areas,'' he said. ``We can see
the trees. We're not looking from outer space.'' From an airplane, one of the most
striking features of the forest around Quincy is the extent to which the topography is
defined by watersheds. Canyons, creeks, lakes -- life follows the flow. Ecosystems
far from this proposed experiment with nature will be profoundly affected by its
The scars of logging and wildfire are plainly evident. The patches of pale greenery, the
orderly rows of replanted trees and the snaking paths of reddish-brown logging roads
show how timber companies have mowed the areas of least resistance. The old growth
remains mostly on the steepest slopes.
Which is the greater threat to this public treasure -- fire or excessive new logging?
Should those who were not at the Quincy Library in 1993 be excluded from this
important decision, including biologists with updated studies? And who speaks for the
future generations of Americans and all the wildlife that would have to live with the
Congress should be respectful of all the hard work and expertise provided by the
Quincy Library Group, people who value and know that beautiful stretch of the Sierra.
They deserve a voice in the process -- but not the only one that counts, as HR 858
A FOREST'S FATE
Editor -- Many thanks for your editorial (Sunday, June 15) entitled ``Who Should
Determine the Fate of a Forest,'' alerting your readers to the threat posed by
Representative Wally Herger's bill, H.R. 858.
The bottom line is, the magnificent Sierra forests to which that bill would apply are
public forests, belonging to every citizen of this nation. No one group of individuals
should be entitled to determine how these -- or any other public lands -- should be
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
HOUSE BILL IS NO FRIEND OF THE FOREST
Editor -- Your June 15 editorial -- ``Who Should Determine The Fate of a Forest?'' --
covered many issues in the collaborative Quincy Library Group (QLG) process that
would manage almost three Sierra national forests, 2.5 million acres. There's no
question that an agreement which arose from years of meetings between
environmentalists, loggers, timber representatives and politicians was an amazing
achievement. However, if that very agreement, now a federal bill H.R. 858, results in
further obliteration of precious old- growth forest, then another solution must be
Your editorial seems to indicate that a choice must be made between excessive logging
or fire in order to preserve the old-growth trees. There is more at stake, especially with
regard to fire. As you indicate, scientists are dubious about whether the new and
untested concept of large fuel breaks will actually halt fire. Staff at the Lassen National
Forest have analyzed the QLG fire prevention plan and claim that the fuel breaks could
actually increase the spread of wildfire.
Here is a summary of the reasons forest activists oppose H.R. 858: failure to comply
with environmental law; current logging levels double with adverse impacts on soil
and water; public input is limited, and funding is skewed to three forests at the expense
of the 16 other national forests in California. Concentration of logging in the areas
from which Sierra Pacific Industries buys timber gives the giant corporation an unfair
advantage over small companies who also depend on federal timber.
The entire environmental community supported an administrative approach to fully test
the QLG management concept. This smaller scale approach was even brokered by
Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Jim Lyons. Although smaller, logging would still
have increased in three national forests. Eventually, the compromise was rejected by
This bill may even pass the House but Senate success is not assured. Why not follow
the ``compromise'' and go the administrative route which would ensure that the
collaborative Quincy Library Group plan could be tested this year! It would also go a
long way to restoring peace in the environmental family.