Link: Building Bridges: The Quincy Library Group

June 14, 1996

In the 1980's, the logging town of Quincy in northern California was a typical small town distressed by ongoing logging wars. From bullet holes in an office front window to near misses from swerving logging trucks, the environmental community became the target of the timber industry's frustration due to reduced timber volume, mechanization of jobs and loss of revenues to county governments.

The local newspaper featured letters that accused environmental activists of "taking the food from babies mouths" and the radio station broadcast activists' home addresses and suggested that they were "a blight on the landscape."

While this story was being repeated in many logging towns, Quincy leaders decided that their isolated community could be different by finding a solution that would bring the community together again. The answer? Three men -- an elected county supervisor, a timber company executive and an environmental lawyer -- met at the town library to talk. It was "the only neutral place we could think of, and once there, we knew we had to keep our voices down," said the lawyer. The Quincy Library Group, or the QLG, was begun.

But early meetings were rife with suspicion, mistrust, and blame and the group nearly split apart a number of times. Hard work, perseverance and a commitment to the community, however, has kept the (by now) 40-member group at the table. After meeting for more than two years, the QLG developed, by consensus, a comprehensive plan for the national forest timber lands that met their goals. Some would be logged and some would not. The hard part came when the plan was tested: in 1995, the Forest Service advertised a timber sale that violated the QLG agreements. But the timber companies said "a deal is a deal" and didn't bid the sale. Later efforts by the Forest Service to bypass the QLG by recruiting a local Congressman and a non-Quincy timber company met final defeat when the White House intervened to shelve the sale permanently.

The QLG success is due to three factors: 1) the town is isolated from other communities and residents are thrown together at the grocery store, the post office and the PTA, 2) the three leaders were equally forceful personalities, none of whom were about to be bulldozed in a consensus process and 3) the people of the community cared enough about their community to put in the hard work required to overcome years of anger, hatred, and mistrust.

The QLG was and is buffeted by naysayers, including the local media, the hard-line environmental activists, the hard-line timber proponents, and national environmental groups. But the core of the group held together, came to a point where they could trust each other enough to hand over responsibility for communications with the outside world to whichever member was available, and even found that they could present the other's point of view honestly when talking to outsiders.

Linda Blum, a staunch environmentalist and member of the QLG, has pointed out that the group did not begin with the intent of revising the way the Forest Service does business in their part of rural California, but that the QLG energy and results have been threatening to the Forest Service and to some politicians. "We thought we could devise a plan for our forests that would meet the needs of the environmentalists and still produce a timber volume for the mills and the timber workers. Little did we know that the timber beasts within the Forest Service would do almost everything in their power to sabotage our efforts."

The weak point in the QLG agreements is that they are only advisory; implementation is at the mercy of the Forest Service. The strength is in the moral weight that comes from a community that can rise above both ideology and details and compromise on a plan that makes sense for both the forest ecosystem and the economy. (Contributed by Laurel Ames, Sierra Nevada Alliance, P.O. Box 9072, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158)

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