QUINCY, Calif. - The day after President Clinton signed the Quincy Library Group's forest management plan into law on Oct. 22, members of the grassroots coalition celebrated with a sparkling cider toast. That was it. No Main Street parade. No victory banner across the Plumas County Courthouse.
After five years of planning,
plotting and politicking their controversial proposal for 2.5
million acres of national forest land in the northern Sierra Nevada
(HCN, 9/29/97), the poster children for collaborative conservation
efforts are weary.
"It's been a long struggle,"
says Bill Coates, a former Plumas County supervisor and group
co-founder. "We've been ready for a party for months, but we can
hardly believe this moment has actually come to pass."
After surviving a bruising battle with
environmentalists from the local to the national level, Quincy
Library Group members are also wary of the next onslaught. Gun-shy
from attacks in national newspaper ads and a barrage of
often-personal criticism, the coalition members fear the approval
of their legislation will invite another
the next round
right. Environmen-talists who fought to prevent passage of the
Quincy bill are now poised to scrutinize the Forest Service's
environmental impact statement, required before any project work
can begin. They may contest it in court if it does not meet all
legal requirements, says Louis Blumberg, a spokesman for The
Wilderness Society in San Francisco.
has also prepared environmentalists across the country for possible
future legislation promoting local control of federal resources.
Opponents who were initially hesitant to get involved out of
respect for the Quincy environmentalists will not waver the next
time, says Steve Evans, conservation director for Friends of the
River in Sacramento.
"The next QLG-type proposal
that goes to Congress will be under full attack right out of the
gate," he says.
It's heavy artillery for a
proposal intended to bury the hatchet. The Quincy coalition formed
in 1993 after Coates and Tom Nelson, a Sierra Pacific Industries
forester, asked Michael Jackson, an environmental attorney, to work
with them to salvage the local economy. Traditional enemies, Coates
and Jackson developed a plan designed to protect wilderness and
roadless areas while providing timber for local sawmills, the
mainstay of the rural economy. The group they formed took its name
from the only neutral meeting place they could agree upon. It
attracted anglers and business owners, school officials and timber
union leaders who have gathered once a month since
Their plan calls for removing small trees
and brush from up to 60,000 acres a year to reduce the threat of
wildfire on the Plumas and Lassen national forests and the
Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest. Loggers will
also harvest timber on around 9,000 acres annually, one tree at a
time or in two-acre clear-cut blocks. The plan makes about 500,000
acres of national forestland off-limits to logging and protects
watersheds, riparian and ecologically sensitive areas during a
five-year demonstration period.
proposal drew little serious opposition until the coalition sought
help from Washington. Frustrated by the plodding pace of the U.S.
Forest Service and fearful that it would atrophy from inaction, in
1995 Coates, Jackson and Nelson took their plan to Rep. Wally
Herger, R-Calif. The legislation Herger introduced sailed through
the House in July 1997 on a 429-1
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and
Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, co-sponsored it in the Senate. But
Boxer, under pressure from environmentalists and in a tight
re-election race, withdrew her support and blocked the legislation
from going to a debate and vote before the full Senate. In October,
Feinstein attached it as a rider to the 1999 federal spending bill
and, with Herger, lobbied for the support it needed to survive
congressional opposition and the threat of a presidential veto. Now
that it is law, says Matt Mathes, a Forest Service spokesman in San
Francisco, the Forest Service will "make it work," setting an
ambitious 300-day deadline to complete the environmental impact
a trial run
The most controversial aspect of the
Quincy plan is the small-tree thinning to reduce the threat of
forest fire. Alliance members say the 60,000-acre annual fuel
breaks will protect their communities and the forest ecosystem.
Critics say it's business as usual, since the projects will produce
enough logs to keep Sierra Pacific's four local sawmills in
Whether the fuel breaks are a threat
to forest ecosystems or a necessary safety measure, the Quincy plan
proves that wildfire is a political buzzword powerful enough to
bring traditional opponents together. The common ground Coates and
Jackson found in Quincy in 1993 allowed Herger and Feinstein to
work together in Washington. The image of old foes cooperating to
solve mutual problems has made the group a fabled example of
"This is an example of what can be
accomplished when Republicans and Democrats work together. It's
very heartening for collaboration groups all over the country,"
The strength of the Quincy group's
famous - or infamous - collaboration will be put to the test as
Forest Service managers begin marking real trees for real chainsaws
to cut. It's a test of the Forest Service as well. The challenge
for the agency will be to meet the larger ecosystem goals, says
Evans of Friends of the River, instead of just meeting the acreage
targets set by Congress. Many eyes will be watching both the Forest
Service and the Library Group.
All that scrutiny
can only be good for the woods, says Lynn Jungwirth, chair of the
Seventh American Forest Congress Communities Committee. It will
force the Quincy Library Group and the Forest Service to do their
most conscientious work and to scrupulously monitor the
"There's so much pressure to do it right
that I'm hopeful," says Jungwirth. "If the forest benefits, nobody
- Jane Braxton
Jane Braxton Little
writes from Plumas County, Calif.