Testimony on Ecosystem Management

by John Sheehan , Executive Director, Plumas Corporation, Quincy, California

Senate Agriculture Committee

Agricultural Research, Conservation, Forestry and General Legislative Subcommittee

April 14, 1994

Thank You to the Chair for asking our organization to testify.

At the Northwest Forest Conference last Spring, the environmentalist Andy Kerr said: "When you say ecosystem management, I hear 'ecosystem', while a forester hears 'management' ". The carrying out of this new approach to the forests and rangelands will take a continuing definition and redefinition of terms that will gain and lose currency while this sea change takes place. The key, I believe, is to constantly keep the focus on the ground in question: on the stream reach, forest stand, pasture or community that is the subject of our attention,

I work for the local non-profit economic development corporation in a mountainous, forested county of 20,000 peoples Plumas County has three quarters of its almost two million acres managed by the US Forest Service for the people of the United States. Plumas Corporation was set up in 1983, in response to a 22% annual unemployment rate and a local perception that our timber dependent economy needed diversification. Attached to my testimony is a review of the current economic dependency of our area on the national forests.

Plumas Corporation carries out tourism promotion as well as business attraction, retention and expansion programs for the County. More to the point, since 1985 we have also been carrying out a wide range of stream restoration, research and management modifications throughout our watershed.

We operate within an enabling framework called Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) that was developed by a federal interagency (resource agencies) agreement in 1980 and mimicked by our state in 1983. The key to CRM is its ability to share staff and resources among the partners while focusing jointly on particular landscape segments or management issues. We broadened the CRM concept locally when we adopted our formal Memorandum of Agreement in 1987 (attached) by including local governmental entities, Plumas Corporation as well as our regional utility: Pacific Gas and Electric Company. From the effort's initiation Plumas Corporation was given the role of coordination and implementation, This was due to the other participant's perception that we had the least disingenuous of motivations: the creation/retention of local jobs.

Projects accomplished include complete problem analyses, prioritizing and costing of needed improvements by subwatershed. They include restoration activities ranging from road modifications, revegetation, check dams, fish ladders, fencing and stock water developments to full geomorphic reconstruction /revegetation projects and rewatering of meadows. This summer's big project (after five years of planning ) is starting reclamation of our only superfund site: an abandoned mine spoils area. As a direct result of our CRM projects, we now have trout passing through stream systems where there have been barriers for 50 years. We've significantly reduced erosion in treated areas. We have six hundred percent increases in waterfowl on monitored projects. We have created wetlands and purer late season streamflows. All of our projects have used locally available rocks and plants as the prime building materials. All of our construction contracts have gone to local firms, primarily for heavy equipment operation and material transport.

Three businesses have started due to our mutual efforts: a wholesale nursery specializing in climatized native plants to supply regional restoration efforts, a stream monitoring and environmental analyses firm and most happily a watershed restoration program, with an Associate degree, at the local Junior College.

CRM focuses on Cumulative Watershed Effects remediation, on public and private multiple use lands. Our project designs seek to mimic natural functions. In all cases, the landowners lead the process since all the projects have been voluntarily undertaken. The Feather River Resource Conservation District serves a critical role as the liaison between the public regulators and the private landowner. The District's long term horizon provides the perspective to properly prioritize our efforts. The RCD and SCS's future should continue to be tied to the resource base as opposed to commodity export.

The development, feeding and success of the CRM has come about through the locally driven, ongoing, voluntary, consensual partnership of the seventeen signatories to the MOA, each responding to "enlightened self interest". It has weathered three national administrations and two state governors. The specific arrangements vary from project to project, although there are usually a dozen (public and private) financial contributors to each major project. The organizational structure (see chart) is decidedly non-hierarchical. It was not invented within this beltway or by regulation. The current Forest Supervisor initially described it as “that bubble group that gets things done but I don't know how". We have organized ourselves to provide constant feedback loops to modify our practices and projects. We have both a functioning pipeline of planning and design and we deliver on the ground projects. I offer this chart not as the be-all, end-all of such charts but as a contrast to the non-inclusionary, rote methods by which people have been forced, by law and regulation, to carry out tasks and make decisions within the US Forest Service.

Now we have begun a broader effort that looks at a forest management and restoration program for public lands in the Feather River watershed: The Quincy Library Group (QLG)-Community Stability Proposal (attached). Many of you were visited in February by members of the QLG. This locally initiated ecosystem management effort extends the watershed restoration work that the CRM has accomplished and proposes a strong monitoring function (as with the CRM). The OLG proposal builds on the harvesting practices of one successful local mill-Collins Pine Company, the first major mill in the country to receive the "Green Cross Certification" for its environmentally sound practices on its own local forest. QLG also posits a major fuels reduction program to decrease the incidence and severity of "stand destroying fires" that will ruin the trees, habitat and critters. We hope that this program will also provide enough timber to run the existing local mills, if USFS can gear up to carry it out. We believe that this and other partnerships will not succeed unless the USFS finds new ways to afford meaningful, positive and ongoing public involvement.

Quincy Library Group, we believe, is the first partnership group in the country to come to you with a locally initiated, consensus-driven Ecosystem Management program emboldened by the on-the-ground experience to back up our words.

QLG has reached consensus because it has found a set of principals that are agreed upon, as opposed to focusing on divisive issues. QLG proposes some major changes to the Land Management Plans on the three national forests in the QLG area.

No timber targets are to be set. Outputs are to be expressed in acres treated per year to achieve forest health. QLG uses the CRM "mimic natural functions" principles. We propose to reintroduce the role of fire into the ecosystem, over time, in coordination with an aggressive “thinning from below" timber program. This will, we believe, prevent the stand destroying crown fires that are increasing threats to all the forest products and creatures in the drier portions of the West. We propose uneven age management and a longer harvest cycle. Sensitive, Roadless and Wilderness areas are, in effect, left off the map, in that they won't be subject to interventions during the five years of the QLG. Fireproofing around those areas will be addressed.

The experience local groups have gained through the authorities contained in the 1990 Farm Bill, particularly in Subtitle G with its emphasis on locally generated efforts, lead us to hope that you will greatly expand those authorities in the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization. State, Private and Cooperative Forestry at USFS can assume a larger role in facilitating ecosystem and restoration partnerships on USFS lands. Now USFS flexibility in "end product" contracts, restoration "credits". KV funding deregulation, local cooperative agreements, subcontracted third party monitoring and service agreements must be put in place to allow for local and environmental buy-in to a downslzed, USFS ecosystem management.

All the federal agencies (EPA, SCS, USFS, etc.) we deal with will continue to shrink, Reinvention of this government must include ways, such as those addressed above, to carry out the necessary environmental and economic functions that our forests and rangeland are supposed to perform but have not and will not be able to perform under the current budgets, authorities and ways of doing business. Subtitle G authorities and appropriations should be expanded to allow "Reinventing Government " pilots for Ecosystem Management to be designated in areas, like ours, with active, ongoing and successful partnership programs.

Absent action on your part, local loggers, ranchers, mills and communities will continue to take all the blame for past environmental problems. Without new implementation options, the "least cost" solution to environmental problems will be simply to eliminate the humans. The gridlock will not disappear until groups like ourselves are permitted to show you all that there are more pleasing and cost-effective alternatives to acrimony, penury and the courthouse.

We have asked for Congressional funding to carry out the QLG project. But we also realize that there isn't enough money to take care of all our prospective work. We should be permitted and encouraged to pursue long term, market oriented reinvestment strategies. These would include green cross type certification for whole watersheds and all their outputs, FERC relicensing preference for hydroelectric producers and projects that improve their watersheds on a basin scale (like PG&E with the Feather River) and also Forest Health and Watershed improvement contributions by downstream water users.

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