QUINCY, Calif. - In the context of the burned and dying forests of the West, the Quincy Library Group was supposed to be a good news story. Loggers and environmentalists sat down in the local public library and came up with an agreement to revive the surrounding forests and local timber economy.
But though both sides of the war in the woods worked out a peace
plan, they found they could not get the Forest Service to go along.
Politics, it seems, also occupied a seat at the library
Quincy, a small logging town near Lake
Tahoe in northeastern California, is where California meets the
real West. For more than a decade loggers and environmentalists
have been at each others' throats, while appeals and lawsuits
virtually shut down the local timber supply.
Three years ago the impasse cracked when Tom Nelson, the logging
industry's top lobbyist in California, got together with Plumas
County Supervisor Bill Coates.
Both had come to
realize that a selective logging plan pushed 10 years ago by
environmentalists would yield four times more trees than the Forest
Service's proposals for clearcuts. It was a bitter pill, but the
two men weren't bitter; they decided to get things
Their first step was to call on Mike
Jackson, a key environmentalist, to say yes to what he and others
had long fought for: no more logging in old growth, no more roads
in roadless areas, and selective cutting on the surrounding
national forests to restore forest health and protect people from
To hash out the details,
they met in the library, so that anyone interested could listen and
comment, while keeping their voices down. They drew up a plan and a
map for managing the forests in a 2.5-million-acre area surrounding
The Quincy Library Group soon became
famous as a Western success. The group enjoyed extensive media
coverage and was celebrated by the Clinton administration as an
example of a collaborative approach to saving both jobs and the
environment. The White House blessed the effort by choosing the
nation's Christmas tree from the Plumas National Forest near
Quincy; Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman promised $4.7 million to
implement the library group's agreement.
when the bright lights faded, the Quincy Library Group found itself
battling the Forest Service. Under the infamous salvage logging
rider, the Plumas National Forest twice offered a timber sale
within an area that the group said should be off limits to logging.
Urging the agency on was California Republican Rep. Wally Herger,
who said anything short of cutting trees in the Barkley sale was "a
senseless waste of money and resources and a violation of the law."
The Barkley sale could have blown the whole
agreement, says Mike Jackson, since it is in a roadless area
adjacent to the Ishi Wilderness, and a prime salmon-spawning stream
runs through it. But after what participants called "a bottom-line
meeting," local timber companies agreed not to bid on
It was clear even before
the Barkley sale burst on the scene that the Forest Service didn't
have its heart in collaboration.
"The Quincy Library Group has
demonstrated that even when all of us get on the same side and
push, it doesn't mean the Forest Service will do anything," says
Linda Blum of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, an umbrella organization
encompassing grassroots coalitions like the Quincy Library Group.
"We don't have a federal partner; we have a federal sparring
The big question at a Denver meeting
was what was happening with the $4.7 million promised by the
Clinton administration. The group tried to track down how $1
million slated for a forest health pilot project was spent last
year. "They're just taking the money and using it for existing
projects," says Blum. "They're trapped," explains Ed Murphy. "They
say they would like to but they can't do anything without
amendments to the forest plan."
"This is bureaucratic
behavior," says Blum. "They're trying to demonstrate that our idea
Mike Jackson is antsy. "Give me a
piece of paper," he says. "I'll write a prescription. Can I borrow
a piece of paper?" he asks logger Claude Sanders. "Somebody give me
a map. I'll find material." Jackson sits at a desk and scribbles
furiously. "We need to plan a timber sale for the $4.7 million that
doesn't violate their laws," he says. "We can find one five minutes
from my house," says Sanders. Jackson and Sanders agree to meet the
comes into the Morning Thunder Cafe with a pugnacious set to his
white bearded jaw. Jackson, who grew up in Redding, the largest
timber town in northern California, is a criminal defense lawyer
and has worked as a local public defender.
the past decade, he has also filed lawsuits for environmental
groups, using California's public trust doctrine to restore flows
and stop dam projects on Sierra Nevada rivers. He used the
Endangered Species Act to stop timber sales.
sketches the local history in broad strokes. "In the early part of
this century, Quincy was home to the Red River Lumber Co., once the
biggest timber company on the West Coast. They cut the hell out of
the ponderosa forest for 40 to 50 years, then closed the mill, and
moved on. The workers who were left behind burned down the mill.
After World War II, smaller companies logged the easily accessible
parts of the federal forests. Then, as urban refugees and the
environmental ethic arrived in the 1970s and "80s, the fight
started over what remained."
tossed Jackson out of a bar where he'd been gloating about winning
the battle for designation of a nearby wilderness. "It had reached
the point that most of the logging community wouldn't set foot in
here," he says, looking around the laid-back coffeehouse, "and
environmentalists wouldn't set foot in Bob's Fine
"We had been enemies
for 15 years. We didn't talk to each other. It was a community that
was split. I'd say there was a 60 to 40 split in favor of logging,
but the 40 percent was more knowledgeable about politics and very
well connected to the urban view of the Sierra. So it resulted in a
Jackson recalls the day Nelson and
Coates said they wanted to talk on his terms - the land base. "We
took all the roadless areas off the land base so we don't fight
over those for 200 years. That's what it takes to regrow the forest
that was here, the ponderosa pine, mixed conifer forest that John
Muir saw, a forest composed 75 percent of big old trees with very
little under them, except grass. You could ride through these
forests with your hat on and never get it knocked
"Now we have two classes
of land," Jackson says, "one that shouldn't be disturbed that we
leave alone as long as possible, and the other that needs fixing."
As the sun burns the lasts
wisps of fog out of the mountain ravines, Jackson meets Claude
Sanders for a walk in the woods near Quincy.
Sanders works seasonally as a contractor for a small, independent
logger. He has a second job in the winter as a "professor of
volleyball" at the local community college. He leads us down a
logging road near his home.
On the left side of
the road, skinny gray skeleton trees lean against each other like
so many pick-up sticks. On the right side of the road is a
we log, this is what we should leave behind," says Claude, pointing
to the right, which he says was thinned 15 years ago. Turning to
the left, he shakes his head. The land was clearcut and fire has
never thinned it. "You couldn't have a better fuel ladder," he
"This is almost useless
ecologically," adds Jackson. "I need a chainsaw in here to save the
spotted owl. It couldn't fly through this thicket."
"But the bottom line is: Can
the material pay for it?" wonders Sanders.
"That's the experiment," says
Jackson. "Those two trees," he says, pointing to a couple crowding
an even bigger ponderosa, "might fund chipping the trees that are
down on the ground for plywood or biomass for electricity."
"If it doesn't, will the
American public accept paying more for lumber?" Sanders asks. "A
lot of people believe what I think is a myth - that the forest is
healthy and can return money to the Treasury. I believe we can just
about pay for maintenance. The forest is no longer a cash cow. At
best, it's a break-even
"I believe the
only long-lasting, sustainable solution is intensive management by
people on the ground," says Sanders. "I would like to see a niche
for an experiment in stewardship. I would love to take an acre, an
acre and a half a day, and use everything economically. The Forest
Service is locked into single-product timber sales. Valuable poles
get made into saw logs. A piece of cedar six feet long is worth a
lot more as a fence post than chipped. An acre a day thinning, plus
two to three days making products, working half the year, I might
go through 60 acres per year. I might need 600 acres. Give me a
wheat farm," says Jackson. "Our 2.5 million acres needs something
like this, and that would provide work for 1,500 people like you in
But even when loggers and
environmentalists agree on a vision for sustaining the forest and
community, why can't they get the Forest Service to go along? "They
want us to fight because if we don't ...," Jackson begins and
Sanders finishes the thought, "attention is called to them and
The Quincy Library Group
had hoped that that the $4.7 million allocated by the Forest
Service for forest health would be used to get loggers working on a
pilot project by this spring. But early this month, they were still
wrangling with the agency over the details of more than a dozen
different off-the-shelf projects spread over three national
forests. While the nearby Tahoe National Forest seems to be fitting
its projects with the group's goals, the Plumas and Lassen national
forests continue to resist, and there are eight more salvage timber
sales in the works that could intrude on forest the Quincy Library
Group agreed should not be touched.
information about the Quincy Library Group, contact the group's
facilitator, Mike DeLasaux, University of California Cooperative
Extension, 208 Fairground Road, Quincy, CA 95971 (916/283-6125).
The Forest Service liaison with the group is Dave Stone, Forest
Health Pilot Project Coordinator, Plumas National Forest, P.O. Box
11500, Quincy, CA 95971 (916/283-2050).
Jon Christensen writes in Elko, Nevada. Jane
Braxton Little in Greenville, Calif., contributed to this