The restriction, adopted March 30 in a unanimous voice vote, is to prevent disruptions the group fears from longtime opponents of its controversial forest management plan for three national forests in the northern Sierra Nevada.
"For us to get our work done, I see no reason to invite in people who are opposed to what we do," said Tom Nelson, a Sierra Pacific Industries forester who co-founded the group. But to its critics, the limits on participation give explicit sanction to a policy of exclusion that they say has been characteristic of the Quincy Library Group since its formation in 1992.
"It's troubling that they would formally close their doors to interests that have differing opinions," said Jay Watson, regional director of The Wilderness Society. "This is a flawed process that has run even more amok."
Founded by Nelson, then-Plumas County Supervisor Bill Coates and Quincy environmental attorney Michael Jackson, the Quincy coalition designed a forest management plan to protect wilderness and roadless areas while providing timber for local sawmills (HCN, 9/29/97). The plan calls for removing small trees from up to 60,000 acres a year to reduce the threat of wildfire, and harvesting the timber on around 9,000 acres a year one tree at a time or in two-acre clear-cut blocks.
The proposal became the focus of regional and national opposition after Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., introduced legislation requiring the Forest Service to execute the plan in a five-year demonstration project. In October, President Clinton signed the bill co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., despite widespread opposition from environmental groups. The Forest Service has until Aug. 17 to complete a review of the environmental impacts.
An interdisciplinary team of more than 25 agency specialists is assessing the potential effects of the logging, particularly the experimental removal of trees to create a network of forest fuel breaks as a protection against wildfire. The work must comply with all federal regulations, including protections for the California spotted owl, an indicator species that is declining, according to recent studies. So far, the Forest Service team has drafted four possible plans and is working on a fifth, said Lee Anne Schramel Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Plumas National Forest.
To monitor and influence the agency process, the Quincy Library Group established the Pilot Project Consultation Committee. It is here that the group gives the most scrutiny to Forest Service plans and their effects on water quality, forest fragmentation, prescribed fire and other ecological issues. And it is these meetings that are now closed except to members and invited guests.
Critics were targeted
Representatives of several environmental groups, including outspoken opponents of the Quincy legislation, had been attending the pilot-project committee meetings to participate in the discussions that could affect the eventual management of a large tract of public land.
"Here's a little group of people that can decide public policy," said Erin Noel, staff attorney for the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, a coalition of environmental groups. "I'm hoping to raise substantive issues before they become roadblocks or litigation."
But her reports to her clients angered some Quincy Library Group members, who said they were being misrepresented and their discussions used as ammunition against them. Noel and others interrupted and inhibited the committee's work, said George Terhune, a Quincy Library Group member who proposed the closed-door policy. Terhune said recent meetings were adjourned early because of disruptions caused by what he called "outside interests trying to destroy us."
Noel said closing the committee meetings excludes the public from key discussions about natural resources owned by everyone.
"Until now, the Quincy Library Group has walked a line between public forum and special-interest group. This is a strong step toward special interests," she said.
The coalition is a group of private citizens working toward a common goal, said Nelson, the Sierra Pacific forester. Though it is a consensus-based collaborative group meeting with the interested public, it is not a public body subject to open meeting laws, he said.
Regardless of how the Quincy Library Group behaves, the federal environmental review by the Forest Service is still a public process providing opportunities for anyone to participate, said Watson of The Wilderness Society. That should be the public focus in the few months before the agency presents its management recommendations, he said.
The decision to close the meetings of the Pilot Project Consultation Committee does not affect the Quincy coalition's monthly meetings, generally held in the library from which it took its name, said co-founder Coates.
* Jane Braxton Little
The writer reports from Greenville, California.
You can contact ...
* Quincy Library Group, Mike DeLasaux, 530/283-6125, http://www.qlg.org/;
* Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, Erin Noel, 530/292-4276.
* U.S. Forest Service, Dave Peters, 530/283-2050, http://www.r5.fs.fed.us/hfqlg/.