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Implementing Quincy act will harm forests

Sam Dardick, Guest column

The Quincy Library Act certainly has been controversial, but not just because urban environmental groups opposed the Act, as Assemblyman Sam Aanestad implied in a recent opinion piece.

The law, sponsored by Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate and Congressman Wally Herger in the House, requires an increase in the number of acres managed intensively on the Tahoe, Plumas, and Lassen National Forests, including 33,000 acres within Nevada County.

Now that the Act has become law and the Forest Service is in the process of adopting a plan that implements the Act, some of the Group’s former supporters and thousands of local citizens are deeply concerned. While the Act was passed under Dianne Feinstein’s explicit promise that the Act “would not radically increase logging activities as opponents claim,” the Forest Service has decided to interpret the Act to more than double saw-log production in the Northern Sierra. While thinning will also be slightly increased, the bulk of conservationists’ and locals’ concerns over the plan centers around this increase in logging, not the removal of brush and small trees.

The need to reduce fire risk by reducing forest fuels in the Sierra has become universally accepted by local communities, but also by the big, urban conservation groups. Large and small groups and local communities have pursued and successfully obtained funding from numerous sources that will be used to address the fire problem. So when it comes to the Quincy Library Act, a self-proclaimed fire solution, what is all the fuss?

First, reducing fire risk is not accomplished by just any logging. In fact, numerous scientific studies have made clear that logging of larger trees, coupled with fire suppression, have been the largest factors contributing to the increased fire risk in the Sierra. Cool, fire resistant forests become volatile brush fields and thickets when the larger trees are removed and the forest canopy is opened, both of which allow sun to penetrate to the forest floor. In the past, the Forest Service has claimed that removing large trees would reduce fire risk, but this has not been shown to be accurate.

In addition, intensive logging over many years has had severe impacts on soils and watersheds, as well as now-famous wildlife species like the spotted owl. Particularly in the red fir zone and on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, where most of the Act’s Nevada County impacts lie, logging and road construction have resulted in severe damage to rivers including the Truckee river. These impacts have not only endangered species (like the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout), but have contributed to great concern over how the remaining water is used.

All soil disturbing activity, a necessary part of fuels reduction, will exact some price from the short term health of our forests and watersheds. The question is, how much of a price are we willing to pay, and what benefit will that sacrifice buy? In the case at hand, the Forest Service proposes to increase the number of intensively damaged acres in the three affected forests from the current 40,000 acres to a whopping 73,000 acres, and plans to add 100 miles of new roads. More than two times the existing timber will be removed. For water quality and species on the east side of the Sierra, this radical increase in damaged land means the potential for serious negative impacts. The Forest Service itself has acknowledged that “the negative impacts to soil and water would far exceed any foreseeable positive ones,” although these positive impacts do include a small reduction in acres expected to burn in wildfires. The take home message: cartain damage to soils and water quality from logging and clearing will outweigh the merely potential damage caused by big, intensive fires.

Isn’t there a better way? Without much controversy, the Forest Service could use the kinds of low intensity fuels reduction methods that we know will work, such as the removal brush and small (less than 10 or 15 inches) trees, and could even continue to remove current or somewhat reduced levels of timber. The result would be a great improvement in fire risk reduction, without nearly the cost in damaged lands and waters. It is possible and cost efficient to treat fire danger without doubling logging, and local communities ought to push for that outcome.

So where does the big push to double logging come from? Not Nevada County, where 50 businesses, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, and thousands of local citizens are on the record in support of moderate logging and increased protection for sensitive resources. Despite the fact that economists have shown no correlation between increases in timber production and increased local economic stability or prosperity, a few timber dependent communities still believe that a one-mill town it the ticket to local economic health.

The timber industry is an important component of our local and national economies. But it cannot be the only player at the expense of the economic diversity and health that comes of protecting natural resources. In Nevada County, even those who disagree on most things agree that a diverse economy has brought us some economic stability. In Quincy, locals have just begun the painful process of weaning themselves from a timber dependenceonly to be thrust back into the past of unsustainable levels of timber extraction.

In Quincy, this means very high seasonal unemployment, the export of most of the timber wealth as raw timber, and continued degradation of water quality. While this may benefit the timber giants, over the long term it edges out small business and sets the stage for a regulatory crackdown.

Worst of all, what may seem like a short term boon to Quincy has been thrust upon Nevada County. Our economy would be best served by implementation of the Quincy Library Group Act in a manner that protects the resources that lead to prosperity, and that does not double extraction of resources at the expense of tomorrow’s watersheds and timber industry.


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