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Sheehan explained that the design behind the QLG legislation was that revenues brought in during the projects would then fund further work. Instead, most of the areas treated have been for fire protection and haven't brought in the kind of timber that keeps the mills and co-generation electric plants running and stimulates a robust local economy.

According to Sheehan, few of the QLG projects that have been accomplished thus far have broken even. The goal had been for the projects to generate $3 for every $1 spent.

Funding questioned
Craig Thomas, director of Sierra Forest Legacy, a coalition of 100 environmental groups with a focus on federal forest policy and management, and also present at the senator's meeting, said he believed that the funding of the QLG projects needs to be revisited.

In a phone conversation, Thomas explained that the QLG project area has received between $26 and $31 million more than any other national forest for the past seven years.

"A concern for us is, with all that extra money, why does the QLG need to create conflict over cutting big environmentally important trees in order to make their treatments pay for themselves?" Thomas said. "The QLG is like a child who spends all his allowance but doesn't come home with the groceries.

"Rather than completing 10 projects while seeking a profit, why not do eight, keep an economic buffer, hire contractors to restore and make the forest fire safe, with the money available, and do less damage to the forest?"

Thomas explained that SFL is asking whether there isn't a better way to use the QLG money. He would prefer that all work in the forest be paid for by money allocated from Congress and paid to contractors for fire-safe treatments.

"We want more acres treated," Thomas said. "We're not fighting the effort to cut small diameter trees. But we believe the QLG money should be focused on fuel objectives, small trees, brush, ladder and surface fuels.

"We agree that the current forest contains more white fir than in the past due to fire suppression and past management. We would like to target treatment toward white fir and smaller trees. Cutting big habitat trees is what gives us the most heartache."

Thomas said there has been "tremendous conflict" over the debate, which covers "overly-aggressive logging that risks old growth and sensitive species."

Thomas said, however, that everyone at the meeting committed to work together to see if there were a way to resolve some of the issues at the center of the conflict.

Thomas stated that one "way" would be re-engaging in a conversation that might hammer out an agreement on any of the sales.

In fact, teams of negotiators from QLG, SFL and the USFS are currently engaged in a series of meetings attempting to find agreement on two sales, the Flapjack (in the La Porte-Strawberry area), and the Freeman (near Portola).

Jackson prophesizes doom
These negotiations are confidential by mutual agreement, but when asked, QLG attorney Mike Jackson answered that at this point he "wasn't sure" yet if there was cause for optimism.

"The senator's desire was to attempt to resolve the conflict between the opponents by bringing the three parties together," Jackson said. "I think she believes she and Senator Reid have the horsepower to decide the outcome of this themselves. The senator is giving the parties one last chance to find an agreement. She cares enough about this to give the message to each of the parties personally."

Jackson went on to explain that the situation was very serious. "We at QLG have been very well-funded but have shown little performance," Jackson said. "If we are not successful now, we will lose 1,000 jobs in Plumas County. There will be a big ripple effect. The Forest Service personnel in the QLG area will be cut in half. That will close the mills, which will close the schools. Property values will be cut by a half."

Jackson said he thought the senator believed that people locally are not taking this situation seriously enough, that they don't comprehend the opportunity at stake and don't appreciate the bigger picture.

"Our environmental friends are stuck on one concept," Jackson said. "They want to create an ice-aged forest in the face of global warming.

"For fire purposes and eco-system purposes the QLG has been substantively right. We just haven't been able to do enough work because of litigation."

Jackson explained that if the QLG can't implement its program now, the momentum behind much of the progressive work that has been done in the county for long-term watershed restoration will be lost.

"Our ideas will be implemented in the hills outside L.A.," Jackson said. "School Superintendent Mike Chelotti doesn't think it's a coincidence that when the QLG started there were 4,000 students in the county and now there are only 2,300.

"Because of the lawsuits, there is zero timber on federal land available to Sierra Pacific Industries. Collins Pines has about three days of work on federal land. The smaller companies are all at risk of bankruptcy right now."

Jackson continued by saying that although the QLG has been able to stop fires effectively and thereby save ecosystems while marginally keeping the timber industry alive, this has not been enough.

"I have heard the senator say in speeches across the county that solving the fire problems throughout the West is her top priority nationally," said Jackson. "And even though there are currently 70 graduate students writing Ph.D.s and journal articles on the QLG, the group itself may not survive."

Comstock concerned
Plumas County Supervisor Rose Comstock spoke passionately about the luncheon during a phone conversation.

"The environmentalists just don't care about people here and their jobs," Comstock said. "The social upheaval that will occur as a result of not implementing the QLG's plan won't affect them a bit."

Comstock explained that she has worked continually to put the county into a position where there are sustainable jobs that will allow people to have steady work and will allow the county to afford to pay for the basic public services and benefits that ordinary people need.

"I want to see Plumas County free from threats by the federal government about funding cuts such as we are seeing now with the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act," Comstock said. "If we can manage the forests, we can support ourselves and our children."

Comstock also said that the SFL group sees the forests as the taxpayers' responsibility, and as having no commercial relevance.

"But that's not true," Comstock said. "At least not in my mind. Timber is a valuable product. And the people in the timber industry have valuable and needed skills. Why should we outsource these jobs overseas when the QLG has a plan to keep the jobs and the forest habitat healthy?"

Peña optimistic
Former Plumas Forest Supervisor Jim Pea was a little more optimistic about the negotiations as of Friday, Aug. 31.

During a break from a negotiating session, Pea stated in a phone interview that it was apparent to him at the meeting with the senator that she was very interested in moving the QLG program forward.

"The Forest Service certainly has a stake in this discussion," said Pena. "This program is an avenue by which the Forest Service will be able to accomplish some large fuels treatments that will begin to move the land toward a more fire-resilient condition.

"We have always worked with all interested parties. Our current discussions are exploring avenues that will meet everyone's objectives."

Pea said that he was optimistic at this point that the discussions underway would lead to some resolution. "I try to be optimistic because I am acting as a facilitator for interests outside the agency. My goal has always been to reflect what the public is telling us while remaining in compliance with the legislation."

In a final comment, Sheehan said it was his hope that the negotiating sessions would keep in mind the beautiful words written in the National Environmental Policy Act passed in the '70s from which all other environmental law flows: "productive harmony."

Feinstein speaks
In an exclusive statement to Feather Publishing, Senator Feinstein said, "We are at a critical time for the Quincy Library Group program. There are nine projects totaling about 42,000 acres that are being held up, either through appeal or litigated in court, and the Quincy Library Group project has consistently not met targets established in the legislation.

"The whole point of this is to put in the fuel breaks that will allow these great forests to survive a major wildfire, and it has encountered one delay after another - while the state gets drier, the weather gets hotter and the threat of catastrophic wildfire grows.

"That's why I have urged the Quincy Library Group, the Forest Service and the environmental organizations to revisit two projects - Freeman and Slapjack - and have encouraged the parties to negotiate agreements that would allow these projects to move forward and create about 7,400 acres of fuel breaks.

"I look forward to receiving an update in September on the status of these negotiations.