by Alexander Cockburn
boasts roll more readily from the lips of Sen. Dianne Feinstein than those concerning her role in consummating the supposedly impossible dream of environmental politics: brokering harmonious compromise between the timber companies and their traditional green antagonists. In October of 1998, Feinstein finally maneuvered through Congress a piece of legislation known as the Quincy Library Bill.
Quincy? It's a timber town on the Feather River in the California Sierra. It has a library, and in this building in Quincy, beginning in 1993, some local citizens hunkered down with government officials and timber and environmental groups. Their goal was to see if common ground could be reached on such fraught issues as the protection of roadless areas, reduction of fire risk in the adjacent national forests and provision of a sure supply of logs to the local sawmills.
As often happens with such efforts, the compromise that they finally reached failed to win unanimous acclaim. The local sawmill operators, already in poor shape, noted that the prime beneficiary of the Library group's logging plan was the giant Sierra Pacific Industries, second largest landholder in the United States.
For their part, environmentalists speedily fastened on the fact that the Quincy compromise gave Sierra Pacific the go-ahead to log great swaths of publicly owned forest land, all in the name of fire prevention.
The fire-protection plan envisaged corridors through the trees of the sort one sees underneath high-tension wires. Only, in this case, the corridors were to be a quarter of a mile wide, thus, setting the stage for huge clear-cuts, totaling 60,000 acres a year. Furthermore, Sierra Pacific was to get 9,000 acres of mature forest per year as a lagniappe.
The Quincy compromise was swiftly acclaimed as a model of what enlightened consensus could produce, in contrast to the polemics and litigation of sterile enviro-combat. Feinstein duly made haste to reap a political harvest from the Quincy compromise, putting up a bill that she co-sponsored with a robust friend of the logging industry, Rep. Wally Herger.
The mere fact that Feinstein and Herger felt it necessary to turn the Quincy recommendations into law was a dead giveaway as to what was truly afoot. New legislation was necessary, because the Quincy proposals would violate important environmental laws already on the books, laws that the timber industry had been trying to shoot down for years. Soon, Feinstein found herself on the defensive, assailed by green critics who pointed out that she was backing a sweetheart bill for Sierra Pacific.
The senior senator from California fought back, asserting that the Quincy plan would not radically increase logging activities as opponents claim; it would simply replace current logging with a more intelligent, planned approach, aimed at developing a more fire-resilient landscape.''
In 1997, Feinstein failed to drive through the Quincy bill. Her green opponents managed to persuade Sen. Barbara Boxer to withdraw the support she had pledged to her political colleague. But a year later, major green groups such as the Sierra Club found it politic to mute their opposition to the Quincy bill, and through it went, a triumph for Feinstein.
The law then passed into the hands of the Forest Service for assessment of what will actually happen when it is implemented. The Forest Service has now completed its scrutiny, and its conclusions are scarcely flattering to those, Feinstein foremost among them, who have argued that the Quincy bill is not only environmentally benign but a model for future compromises.
Under pre-Quincy logging plans, the Forest Service has been selling around 125 million board feet a year. Under the Quincy plan, the Forest Service will be able to sell 319 million board feet a year, a radical increase by any standard. In order to sell that much volume, the Forest Service will have to put up for cutting not just small overgrown thickets of forest that some ecologists term fire risks, but old-growth groves that are home to the California spotted owl and other rare wildlife species. In order to haul out that timber, the Forest Service would have to build more than a hundred miles of new logging roads in the Lassen, Plumas and Tahoe national forests.
The actual coup de grace to the pretensions of the Quincy compromise and to Feinstein's claims for it are delivered by the Forest Service in four dry, but deadly, sentences: Construction of defensible fuel profile zones (i.e. the linear clear-cuts quarter of a mile wide) would open the forest canopy, bring more light to the forest floor, and result in more brush in the understory of treated areas. This would increase the intensity of wildfire. Defensible fuel profile zones would be ineffective in reducing wildfire hazard without ongoing maintenance. The proposed action would not provide funding for maintenance.''
This is an astounding admission, that a law purportedly designed to reduce fire risk actually increases it; furthermore, that the only way of decreasing this newly increased fire risk is to douse, now and for the forseeable future, the 60,000 acres of clear-cuts with vast amounts of herbicides lethal to wildlife and fish.
Moral: Win-win solutions aren't all that they're cracked up to be. Now, wait for the lawsuits, and a rustling in the forest as Feinstein distances herself from her pyrotechnic project.
September 28, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.