In a rare convergence of pro-environment and pro-industry lawmakers, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a locally initiated approach to forest management in northern California.
The bill, passed 429-1, sets up a five-year pilot project to remove dead and dying timber, restore streams and watersheds and reduce the fire threat in Plumas, Lassen and Tahoe national forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Opposition to the measure faded after House Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who is known for his pro-industry views, and ranking Democrat Rep. George Miller of California, a staunch environmentalist, worked out compromise language on remaining differences.
The legislation is modeled after a plan worked out by the “Quincy Library Group,” loggers, local environmental leaders and other concerned citizens from Quincy, Calif., who began meeting in 1993 to come up with a common approach to forest management. The longtime adversaries met in the town library so it would be more difficult to shout at each other.
“This legislation is all about compromise and consensus building on the local level,” said Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., chief sponsor of the bill.
It requires the Forest Service to develop a system of thinning fire-prone areas by removing 40,000 to 60,000 acres of overgrowth a year from the 2.5 million-acre area. It also establishes a program to restore watersheds and improve water quality, bars timber harvesting in all roadless areas and requires the service to use uneven forest management practices to create more fire-resistant forests.
The administration has come out in support of the Quincy Library Group plan, but expressed concern about some provisions that appeared to exempt the pilot project from federal environmental laws.
“This process was hijacked by those who were interested in cutting trees, not in truly managing the forests,” Miller said before the compromise was reached.
In an effort to win support of the Senate, which must still take up the legislation, and the White House, Young agreed to language that would ensure provisions in the bill comply with California spotted owl guidelines and all environmental laws.
“We have been at war with each other,” said Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., speaking of the hostility between environmentalists and those dependent on logging for their livelihoods. The Quincy plan, he said, “is evidence that we can lay down our swords and actually work together to accomplish something.”
The single dissenting vote came from Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
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