Congress of the United States
Washington, D. C. 20515
March 31, 1999
The Honorable Mike Dombeck
United States Forest Service
Dear Chief Dombeck:
March 20 marked the halfway point in the 300-day period prescribed by law for the Preparation of the environmental impact statement (EIS) launching the five-year Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act pilot project. Many Member of Congress are anxiously awaiting the fruits of the USDA Forest Service's labor on this EIS, as are many in California and throughout the nation.
While we do not wish to be prematurely critical of performance thus far, we feel the need to bring several observations to your attention. They bear directly on the Forest Service's plan and prospects for successfully implementing the pilot project and are grouped into three categories: (1) use of the 300-day period for the EIS, (2) Plumas NF staff downsizing and reassignments; and the (3) local National Forests' program of work in FYI 99 and FY2000.
Use of the 3OO-Day Period for the EIS. The Forest Service got off to a slow start on the EIS called for by the Herger-Feinstein legislation, using the first 60 days of the allotted 300 days to formulate a Notice of Intent for publication in the Federal Register.
In part, the slow start appears to be intentional. Within a month of the passage of the Herger-Feinstein bill, a bipartisan delegation of Congressional staff held meetings with Forest Service personnel the QLG and others in San Francisco and Quincy, California. The intent was to kick off the pilot project by explaining and answering questions about the Intent of Congress in authorizing the QLG pilot. Numerous difficult and very important questions about implementation of the QLG plan arose before and during those meetings, but surprisingly few questions or comments came from USFS personnel. After the meetings it became known that USFS employees were told to not ask questions in the very meetings that were conducted specifically for that purpose. Unfortunately, this did not allow view to be exchanged in a frank manner.
Opportunities for public involvement in the EIS process have been plentiful but sometimes constrained. Most of the Forest Service's public meetings were information only and no public comments were taken. Workshops where public comments were recorded were limited in scope
Mr. Mike Dombeck
and content. While the procedure used by the USFS to gather input undoubtedly facilitated processing and display of public comments, it did not foster the best public information, discussion, or problem-solving activities. Such public deliberation and collaboration have been a hallmark of the Quincy Library Group since its inception, and are recommended by your Committee of Scientists' recent report on national forest planning. We mention this as an observation intended to influence future public involvement sessions. It is not intended to detract from professional completion of the EIS.
The Quincy Library Group phenomenon represents a case of diverse public stakeholders being willing to incorporate the best available science into forest management and ready to work together, but clearly on different terms than before. We hope that you will encourage the Forest Service to make the most of this opportunity to reinvent its relationship with people in Northern California and its approach to land management.
Personnel Assignments and Plumas NF Downsizing. For reasons said to be related to overall National Forest System staffing goals, it is our understanding that the Plumas National Forest has embarked upon yet another multi-year round of staff cuts, reported to total a 25% reduction by 2004. We are concerned that these staff reductions contravene the priority that Congress has placed on successful implementation of the QLG project, particularly in view of the $8 million increase in appropriations Congress has provided for that purpose. Region 5 should revisit its staffing priorities to ensure that that Plumas N.F. is equipped to meet its statutory obligations.
In addition, accompanying the staff size reductions are personnel reassignments that do not appear to be a wise use of staff resources: an archeologist reassigned to be mail clerk, a road engineer reassigned to work in public information. The former timber management officer for the forest has been transferred to administering mining permits and recreation, while the position of forest resource officer has been eliminated, causing a qualified degreed specialist to take a District ranger slot.
These shifts in staffing were not putting more experienced people into jobs that will support implementation of the QLG pilot project. Rather they seem to have just the opposite effect. Given that the QLG pilot project will run through the year 2004, the Plumas National Forest may well not have the right number and kinds of professional staff in a position to implement the law.
Local Forests' FY 1999 and FY2000 Programs of Work. On top of staff reductions and dislocations, the Plumas National Forest interprets the Herger-Feinstein legislation to not allow out-year pilot project work to get started (e.g. season-sensitive field surveys for breeding birds or flowering plants) prior to the Record of Decision on the EIS. According to local official, the Forest Service's Office of General Counsel has determined that site-specific inventories could constitute implementing pre-decisional direction, a curious interpretation given the longstanding position of the Department that all QLG activities could be done under authorities existing prior to passage of the Herger-Feinstein legislation. Staff from the other two national forest in the
Mr. Mike Dombeck
Match 26, 1999
QLG area report getting the same advice.
As a consequence of this legal interpretation, it appear that the Forest Service does not intend to actually implement pilot decisions until the year 2001 at the earliest--a prospect never raised in the months of good faith discussions we had with the Department on the legislation. Several nearly-complete QLG-like projects have been delayed or fragmented due to this confusing legal interpretation.
In the meantime, district offices of the Plumas and Lassen National Forests are continuing to plan non-QLG vegetation and watershed management projects for the next several years that may indeed be inconsistent with the direction in the Herger-Feinstein QLG law. One district office has just asked for public comment on proposals to do all fuels management for the next five to seven years by prescribed burning alone, mostly in one 30,000- acre block. While prescribed burning may be part of a series of management tools, the QLG plan's premise is to allow appropriate fuel reduction fist. A different ranger district has devoted staff to working on projects in watersheds that were expressly designated as off-base or deferred from timber harvest by the QLG plan and the law, in effect committing staff to work on projects arguably prohibited by the Herger-Feinstein law. In addition, ordinary timber sale projects that would be consistent with the QLG plan are only one-seventh of the expected level based on past years activity. We hope that these reports are erroneous because they could be viewed as a direct attempt to thwart the intent of Congress.
We hope to maintain a dialogue with you on implementation of the Herger-Feinstein law. We look forward to your prompt response regarding our concerns, and to working with you in the months and years ahead to ensure a full implementation of the Quincy Library Group legislation.
|/s/ Don Young||/s/ Diane Feinstein|
|/s/ Wally Herger||/s/ Larry E Craig|
|/s/ Larry Combest||/s/ Mike Thompson|
|/s/ George Radanovich|
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