Quincy Library Group

Posted: Jan 1, 2003
Written by: 
Jane Braxton Little

Location: Northeastern California, on 1.53 million acres in the northern Sierra, including all or part of Shasta, Tehama, Lassen, Plumas, Butte, Sierra, Yuba, and Nevada counties.

Objective: To implement and demonstrate the effectiveness of resource management activities proposed to promote local economic stability; create healthy, fire-resilient forests that maintain ecological integrity; and construct a strategic network of fuelbreaks (Defensible Fuel Profile Zones or DFPZs) that provides for safe and effective fire suppression.

Field trip to demonstration thinning project
Photo by Jane Braxton Little

Participants: Local environmentalists, timber company executives, county commissioners, and community volunteers.
After months of negotiations with agency officials over amending the Framework to allow full implementation of its program, the QLG suspended all public meetings in November 2001. The group continued to meet in private, preparing a lawsuit against the Forest Service. Representatives emerged from the secrecy of these meetings to solicit funding from local counties.

History: On July 9, 1997, after years of sometimes difficult meetings held at their local library, a group of local environmentalists, timber industry representatives, county government officials, and others from the small community of Quincy, California, burst onto the national stage. The U.S. House of Representatives that day approved, 429-1, the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group (HFQLG) Forest Recovery Act, a forest management plan developed by this rural coalition – the Quincy Library Group (QLG) – to manage 2.4 million acres of national forest land in northern California.

The emphasis of the bill was on forest thinning, the creation of fuelbreaks to aid in fire suppression, the survival of a healthy local forests products industry, and the protection of 526,400 acres of roadless areas. It had the backing of local communities and the Clinton administration, but it also had staunch opponents within a number of national, regional, and local environmental groups.

At first it appeared that President Clinton's signing the bill into law might be QLG's high point. After the drama in D.C., not much happened until 2000, the first year of on-the-ground program work. That year, crews built fuelbreaks on 7,158 acres – a mere 12 percent of what the legislation mandated. The law authorized the logging of 9,000 acres annually, but only 200 acres of large trees were harvested singly and in two-acre patch cuts.

Lack of funding wasn't the problem; $98.8 million had been committed over the five years authorized for the pilot program. Nevertheless, after three seasons of woods work, the acres treated for fuel reduction and logging totaled just one-third of the minimum expectation, so in 2003, the HFQLG was reauthorized for an additional five years. By 2008, about half of the DFPZ network was in place, and the program had been extended again, through September 2012. “It’s taken ten years to do five years’ worth of work,” says Michael Jackson, an environmental attorney and one of the founders of the QLG.

QLG members blame the U. S. Forest Service's 2001 Sierra Nevada Framework, a forest plan amendment aimed at “conserving old forest ecosystems and their associated wildlife species” (including the spotted owl) for 11 national forests in California.” A hotly-contested provision of the Framework prohibited the cutting of “westside conifers 30 inches diameter at breast height (dbh) and greater”. The major effect on the HFQLG pilot was a dramatic reduction in the volume and value of merchantable timber that could be offered for sale to local mills. Other Framework restrictions necessitated changes in how DFPZs were constructed and made it impossible to implement about 10 percent of the originally planned zones. As a result, the HFGLG project area was reduced from 2.4 million acres to the current 1.53 million acres.

After months of negotiations with Forest Service officials over amending the Framework to allow full implementation of its program, the QLG voted in November 2001 to "suspend regular public meetings because the Sierra Nevada Framework has effectively killed our project and until it is removed there is no effective way to implement our project as designed by the QLG and passed by Congress….” The announcement posted on the QLG’s website explained further, “QLG has decided to focus its efforts on processes that have a better chance of actually causing implementation of the Pilot Project....”

Six months later, the group resumed open, but unadvertised, meetings, and in March 2003, QLG filed a lawsuit seeking replacement of the 2001 Framework. Within weeks, Regional Forester Jack Blackwell was considering Forest Service revisions to the Framework providing for full implementation of the HFQLG project. Those changes were included in his final 2004 Framework, announced in January. Several environmental organizations filed appeals and lawsuits to have the 2004 Framework set aside and any implementation of it stopped. In October 2007, a California District Court denied a motion filed by Sierra Forest Legacy to enjoin the Forest Service from proceeding with work on three specific project sites. In May 2008, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling. The projects now are on hold, and additional litigation is pending.

Accomplishments: As a local alliance testing new forest management strategies, QLG has made valuable contributions. It brought fire and forest fuel loading to the attention of national environmentalists, and the group’s concept of using DFPZs has been adopted in many areas around the West.

 Creating a Defensible Fuel Profile Zone
Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service
On-the-ground project work proceeds in fits and starts, depending upon the uncertain status of appeals, litigation, and timber markets, and is far behind schedule. The Forest Service’s most recent (2008) report to Congress, however, shows significant cumulative results since 2000:
  • More than 4,305 acres of riparian area restored;
  • Over 170,783 acres of DFPZs completed;
  • Sawlog volume of 635,509 hundred cubic feet (CCF) harvested (A standard log truck hauls approximately 10 CCF per load.); and
  • Biomass volume of 709,636 CCF removed (A standard chip truck hauls approximately 10 CCF per load.).
Monitoring programs and studies conducted by the Pacific Southwest Research Station, Forest Service staff on the HFQLG project team, private contractors, and volunteers closely track and document a plethora of project activities, accomplishments, and impacts. Among the study subjects are socio-economic impacts, timber stand structure, soils, noxious weeds, effectiveness of Best Management Practices, spotted owl and forest carnivore populations, the impacts of vegetation management on water yield, watershed and stream conditions, and fire behavior and effects.

The findings generally appear positive. One report, for instance, concludes that in 2008 “the Pittville Defensible Fuel Profile Zone effectively reduced the intensity” of the 7,828-acre Peterson Fire Complex “so that suppression efforts could focus on other portions of the fire…. Local fire managers estimated that without the Pittville DFPZ the Peterson Complex would have been at least 1,000 acres larger.”

“We’re really proud of the thinned areas, of the water work, and of our research,” says Jackson. “Doing thinning the way we described it [in the original legislation] works…. We have more spotted owls than when the program started. Every single owl territory has a monitored owl pair.”

Total Forest Service expenditures (including litigation-related costs) for the HFQLG project from 1999 through 2007 were approximately $193 million.

Challenges/constraints: It is as a collaborative effort that QLG is troubling. Although the group attracted widespread public participation at first, most outsiders who offered new ideas said they got the cold shoulder and stopped attending. When the QLG chose to go the legislative route, others dropped out. Some opposed the top-down approach of legislation. Others opposed the emphasis on logging contained in the legislation. Although it was developing policy for managing federal lands, the group failed to effectively involve the broader public – including the Forest Service -- in its process.

No one knows what would be happening now if QLG had stuck with consensus and insisted on trying to include everyone. Instead, in its drive to deliver the protected roadless areas promised to environmentalists and the timber harvests promised to loggers, the QLG took a top-down, federally mandated approach that limited participation in the program.

”We’re sorry we couldn’t have been more of a successful collaboration,” says Jackson. “Locally we’re still all together.” But relations with non-local groups remain fractious. In its most recent HFQLG reauthorization, Congress directed the Forest Service to try to reduce the level of confrontation, inserting into the legislation a provision that said, “By June 1, 2008, the Forest Service shall initiate a collaborative process with the Plaintiffs in Sierra Nevada Forest Prot. [Protection] Campaign v. Rey … and the Quincy Library Group to determine whether modifications to the Pilot Project are appropriate for the remainder of the Pilot Project.”

So far the results of the discussions have not been promising. In a March 11, 2009, article in the Plumas County News, Managing Editor Delaine Fragnoli reported that QLG members were “far less sanguine about the negotiation process” than were the plaintiffs, and quoted QLG chairman Bill Coates as saying, “Some of us don’t think collaboration is getting us anywhere…. I want to see performance on the ground… and not 5,000 years of process.”

Meanwhile, changes in the environment being documented through HFQLG research and monitoring efforts may give all parties some new, mutual challenges, some of which were not on anyone’s radar screen when QLG first convened. According to Jackson, area forest stands had far fewer trees per acre 16 years ago than they do now. Increasing stand density has resulted in a significant lessening of the pine component of the stands. There’s also been a “songbird crash,” because of denser stands and less available food. And then there’s the problem of water. “We figure we’ve lost about 20 percent of the water flow, because the overstocked stands are transpiring into the air. Each of the smaller, denser trees serves as a water pump, taking water out of the soil.” “While we’re still litigating and haggling over the past, there are significant changes we’ll have to make in the future to keep trees in the interior part of California.”

For more information see:

U.S Forest Service Quincy Library Group Project Information
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