Timber group considers its future
Fights over logging continue to define region after 20 years of building consensus
By TIM HEARDEN
QUINCY, Calif. -- In 1992, a forester, a county supervisor and an environmental attorney were interested in bridging political divides over timber.
They started meeting in a local library, and in time their group grew to as many as 30 members. In 1998, the Quincy Library Group's efforts culminated in congressional approval and funding of thinning projects in three national forests.
But that authorization ran out in September after the program achieved only about 40 percent of its volume goals. Now the group that started it all is trying to decide whether to keep going.
"Some of us are getting weary," said Bill Coates, now a former Plumas County supervisor. "We've got more than 20 years of work on this, and we're always looking for fresh ideas and new ways to get this job done. But we think we've kind of changed the face of forestry to some regard and we've also managed to keep our major mill open, which is worth about 325 jobs in Quincy."
Fights over logging had come to define this area of vast mountain forestland in northeastern California, before Coates joined environmental attorney Michael Jackson and others to try to bridge gaps.
The group's initiatives led to legislation shepherded through Congress by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif. It identified about 1.5 million acres in the Lassen, Plumas and Tahoe national forests for thinning projects.
Initially authorized as a five-year project, Congress extended it until this year as a prolonged housing slump and numerous legal challenges from national environmental groups hindered its progress.
In 2009, timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries closed the small-log mill here that had relied on timber from the Quincy Library Group project, laying off 150 workers. The mill reopened a year later amid signs of economic recovery and a judge's ruling against environmentalists who had sued to block many of the U.S. Forest Service's timber sales in the area.
Group members argue that while the project has been stalled, the small trees that would have been targeted for treatment have instead fueled several catastrophic fires. The Moonlight Fire burned 65,000 acres of mostly forestland in 2007, and this year's Chips Fire torched more than 75,000 acres in the Plumas National Forest.
"In the Moonlight Fire, there were something like 35 protected owl activity centers, which were certain areas set aside for spotted owls," Coates said. "The fire burned them up. So after making quite a bit of news over protection of the spotted owl, we turn around and destroy it a different way."
The House of Representatives agreed this year to an extension of the Quincy Library Group bill but it's been hung up in the Senate, Coates said. Feinstein and Rep.-elect Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., who is replacing the retiring Herger, have told group members they're committed to continuing the project, the Feather River Bulletin reported.
There's still work to be done, Coates said. There's a movement afoot for "stewardship contracts", in which proceeds from timber contracts would go toward replenishing the forests rather than being put back into the treasury, he said.
Such an idea has increasing appeal in the West, where 11 states have set fire-acreage records in the last 10 years, he said.
Still, some members of the Quincy Library Group may contemplate calling it a day, said Mike De Lasaux, a University of California Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor here.
"Most if not all of them have been at this for 20 years now," De Lasaux said. "Many are ready to say, 'I've done my job, or done everything I can possibly do. I have to be content with what has happened and has been accomplished and leave it to another generation perhaps to pick it up and carry it on.'
"I'm still encouraged that members are continuing to contemplate what's next," he said, "so we'll see."
Quincy Library Group: www.qlg.org