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Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act
Independent Science Panel Report

The Pinchot Institute has released the report of an Independent Science Panel describing the successes and failures of a major Congressionally-supported experiment in managing federal lands. The test of collaborative management involving timber companies, environmental groups, county governments, and the US Forest Service lasted more than a decade. The report sheds light on what did and did not work, the persistence of conflict, and the need for science that can guide management and improve consensus.

At the conclusion of the 13-year Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group pilot project, the experiment fell short of goals set for the number of projects completed, expected timber volume, and associated employment. The Forest Service had estimated that the pilot would provide an annual volume of 286 million cubic feet of sawlogs, the product most helpful to local mills, but the average harvest over the 13 years was only 79 million cubic feet.

Download the full report PDF


Background
Independent Science Panel
Review Process
Findings
Frequently Asked Questions



Background

Management of national forests has since their formation sparked debate and controversy on how to accommodate many competing interests.  The Lassen, Plumas and Tahoe National Forests of northern California are no exception.  In the last two decades this landscape spanning more than 3.1 million acres (4,885 mi2) has been the testing ground for a new way incorporate stakeholder interests and ideas into planning and management.  This happened through an Act of Congress, the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act of 1998 (HFQLG Act), but began well before this time through the efforts of a coalition of local interests who had become frustrated with the conflict that had come to dominate management of these forests.

In 1992 a company forester, a county supervisor, and an environmentalist first met to discuss how to ameliorate the conflict—a gathering that soon swelled to 30 members who regularly met in the town library in Quincy, California. Calling themselves the Quincy Library Group (QLG), they sought a treaty of sorts to which all parties could agree would appropriately balance timber harvesting, forest restoration, and protection for sensitive species, especially the California Spotted Owl.  By the fall of 1993, QLG had adopted its Community Stability Proposal, which was presented as an action plan to the Forest Service. It included guidance on management techniques (e.g. silvicultural prescriptions), protection priorities (e.g. for streams and California spotted owls), and a roadmap they thought could accommodate prior management guidance and priorities (e.g. Scientific Analysis Team’s (SAT) guidelines, Small Business Administration (SBA) set-asides, and others).  

The HFQLG Pilot Project (or the “Pilot”) authorized in the HFQLG Act was to run for five years, from 1999 – 2004, at which time its success would be evaluated by an Independent Science Panel. The Pilot was extended in 2003 and again in 2008, and ended on September 30, 2012.  The charge established by Congress in the HFQLG Act, was for the Independent Science Panel to determine “. . . whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability. The membership of the panel shall reflect expertise in diverse disciplines in order to adequately address all of those goals.”




The Independent Science Panel

The Pinchot Institute for Conservation convened the Independent Science Panel (ISP), bringing together a group of scientists representing an appropriate range of disciplines necessary to conduct the review. Panelists included:

Dennis Becker, Ph.D. - University of Minnesota - Socio-economics
Scott Cashen, M.S. - Independent Consultant - Wildlife /Forest Ecology/Silviculture & Editor
Antony S. Cheng, Ph.D. - Pinchot Institute Senior Fellow, Colorado State University - Socio-economics
David Ganz, Ph.D. - Winrock International - Fire Ecology/Forest Ecology/Silviculture
John Gunn, Ph.D. - Spatial Informatics Group - Wildlife /Forest Ecology/Silviculture & Editor
R. J. Gutiérrez, Ph.D. - University of Minnesota - Wildlife/Forest Ecology/Silviculture & Editor
Mike Liquori, M.S. - Sound Watershed Consulting - Hydrology/ Geomorphology/ Watershed Ecology
Amy Merrill, Ph.D. - Stillwater Sciences - Watershed Ecology/Hydrology
Will Price, M.F.S. - Pinchot Institute for Conservation - Hydrology/ Watershed Ecology, Team Coordinator, & Editor
David Saah, Ph.D. - University of San Francisco & Spatial Informatics Group - Landscape Ecology/ Fire Ecology





Review Process

As requested by Forest Service Region 5, which contracted the Institute to convene the ISP, the review proceeded in two phases. Taking place through 2008, in the first phase the ISP reviewed the Forest Service’s monitoring program, which was required by the HFQLG Act to provide the information needed to perform the review. The ISP reported to the Forest Service what additional information would be required to effectively carry out the evaluation called for by Congress. 

The final review began in October of 2012, 16 days following the expiration of the Pilot and was completed in 2013. The reviews included many types of inquiry, by no means limited to the formal documentation of the HFQLG Pilot Project compiled by the Forest Service in their annual reporting. Panelists reviewed published literature, unpublished reports, associated source materials, and raw data--provided by many sources from within and outside the agency. Both stages of the review also included extensive consultation with key stakeholders, especially current and former members of QLG, through in-person meetings, phone interviews, and surveys. The final report of the Independent Science Panel reflects thorough consideration of the many kinds of evidence, and perspectives of individuals involved with the Pilot Project over the thirteen years of implementation.





Findings

The review is technical in nature, reflecting the goals established in the CSP by the Quincy Library Group and the HFQLG Act, and panel took great care to avoid attributing reasons for successes and failures when these reasons could not be substantiated. Overall, the ISP identified nine Key Findings addressing the central question posed by the HFQLG Act—i.e. “whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability.” While the Key Findings and the HFQLG Act address a number of resource management issues affected by the HFQLG pilot project, three major issues were of particular concern: (1) the economic stability of local communities (Key Findings 1, 2, and 3), (2) fire effects (Key Findings 4 and 5), and (3) the California spotted owl (Key Finding 6). Other Key Findings address water resources and watershed condition (Key Findings 7 & 9), and adverse impacts on other resources especially species of concern (Key Finding 8).

  1. The pace and scale of HFQLG pilot project treatment implementation did not meet expectations for the supply of wood fiber or the number of acres treated.
  2. The HFQLG pilot project was unable to provide local economic stability through an adequate and continuous supply of timber to local mills.
  3. The HFQLG Pilot Project leveraged significant external funding and support contributing to positive social and organizational changes within the agency.
  4. Implementation of the HFQLG pilot project fire and fuel management treatments typically reduced localized fire severity and had benefits for fire suppression activities.
  5. Fuel reduction and silvicultural treatments, where implemented, helped develop all age, multistory, and fire resilient stands, but it is uncertain how these treatments affected ecological integrity at the landscape level.
  6. California spotted owl nest and roost sites were protected during the HFQLG pilot project implementation, but the HFQLG pilot project failed to assess if there were adverse environmental impacts to the owl population resulting from treatments.
  7. The HFQLG pilot project successfully implemented measures designed to protect water bodies, but scientific studies did not adequately determine how treatments affected water resources, and the pilot project treatments did not protect streams and riparian areas from the impacts of catastrophic wildfire.
  8. Protection measures, management strategies, and monitoring activities helped reduce some adverse environmental impacts. Other impacts, including to some species of concern, were uncertain because scientific evaluations were uneven, ineffective, or not completed.
  9. The HFQLG pilot project expanded and supported existing wetland and riparian restoration activities, but did not implement a new program of water resource protection and management referenced by the HFQLG Act.
Many factors influenced the implementation of the HFQLG pilot project, the effects implementation had on proposed outcomes, and the extent to which scientific analysis could explain the outcomes. To a great degree the HFQLG pilot project was conceived to test potential solutions for difficult natural resource management challenges, including the competing perspectives of many stakeholders. Over the course of thirteen years there were important persistent challenges that impeded testing of these potential solutions.

Feedback from stakeholders and the Forest Service suggested that there was greater support for the HFQLG pilot project in the later years of implementation. This was partially a result of new science published in agency publications (North et al. 2009, North 2012). This outcome of support and acceptance demonstrates the value of science-based dialogue that served as the original impetus for the Community Stability Proposal.

The collaboration that led to the Quincy Library Group’s Community Stability Proposal has been celebrated as a potentially transformative approach for federal lands management. Whereas the HFQLG pilot project originated through an unprecedented type of collaboration, it also represented an unprecedented type and level of federal investment. Despite these precedents, envisioned outcomes were not achieved over thirteen years of the HFQLG Act. The degree to which local economic stability has been accomplished or how the California spotted owl and other species of conservation concern will fare over the long term has not been answered.

Where implemented, the HFQLG pilot project treatments helped reduce the damaging effects of wildfire. The treatments also produced some much needed local economic stimulus. Thus, the HFQLG pilot project has demonstrated some potential of collaborative engagement. Yet, after more than a decade it cannot yet be considered a model for how institutions and collaborative partnerships achieve the complex outcomes of promoting forest health and economic stability while maintaining environmental values. Thus, the full effects and potential impacts of the HFQLG pilot project remain uncertain.






Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the HFQLG Act and what were the objectives?
The HFQLG Act was enacted on October 21, 1998 establishing the HFQLG pilot project to test approaches that grew from the efforts of the Quincy Library Group and their interaction with the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests in northern California. The Quincy Library Group developed the Community Stability Proposal in 1992 with the intention to reduce conflict over forest management approaches, sustain communities in the region, improve the health of forests and watersheds, and maintain the ecological integrity of managed forests.

2. What is the Quincy Library Group and why did their members seek legislation?
By the 1980s, conflicts over the management of national forests in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges of northern California had become so severe that most management actions proposed by the Forest Service resulted in political and legal battles. Sharing the belief that management was not satisfying anyone, community leaders, environmental activists, and timber industry representatives in and around Quincy, California began meeting in the town library to discuss their concerns.  In 1992, this coalition of individuals officially became known as the Quincy Library Group (QLG), and in 1993 the group presented its “Community Stability Proposal” (CSP) to the Forest Service (Marston 2001).  The intent of the CSP was to expand the existing landbase available for timber production, while simultaneously promoting forest health and the economic stability of the local communities.  Expected benefits of the CSP included: jobs, reduced risk of catastrophic wildfires, habitat conservation (especially for species associated with old-growth forests), and watershed restoration.

3. What is the Independent Science Panel (ISP)?
An Independent Science Panel was specifically called for in the Act:

“(1) The Secretary (of Agriculture) shall establish an independent scientific panel to review and report on whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability. The membership of the panel shall reflect expertise in diverse disciplines in order to adequately address all of those goals."

4. How long did the review take?
In 2007 the Independent Science Panel initiated a review of the HFQLG pilot project. The Pinchot Institute for Conservation was selected to convene the panel to evaluate associated implementation and lessons it may offer, through a multi-year interdisciplinary review. The review took place in two phases, with visitations to the HFQLG pilot project area in 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2013. In 2008, the ISP completed Phase One, which consisted of a comprehensive review of available data and monitoring approaches employed up to that time. The purpose of the interim review was to make recommendations to the HFQLG implementation team about necessary changes to the monitoring program that would provide data upon which the final evaluation would be based. Time was spent on each forest consulting with key stakeholders and agency leads during this process.

The HFQLG pilot project was extended in December 2007, and the Forest Service was directed to initiate a collaborative process with environmental group plaintiffs and the Quincy Library Group to consider treatment modifications. The collaborative process began in 2008 and concluded on September 30, 2012. The ISP resumed evaluation on October 16, 2012 to provide to Congress a report on the effectiveness of the HFQLG pilot project activities.

5. What kinds of information did the ISP use to conduct the review?
The reviews included many types of inquiry, by no means limited to the formal documentation of the HFQLG Pilot Project compiled by the Forest Service in their annual reporting. Panelists reviewed published literature, unpublished reports, associated source materials, and raw data--provided by many sources from within and outside the agency.

6. How were Quincy Library Group members and other stakeholders involved in the review?
Both stages of the review also included extensive consultation with key stakeholders, especially current and former members of QLG, through in-person meetings, phone interviews, and surveys. The final report of the Independent Science Panel reflects thorough consideration of the many kinds of evidence, and perspectives of individuals involved with the Pilot Project over the thirteen years of implementation. 

7. Was the HFQLG Pilot Project successful, and should this kind of approach to natural resource management be tried somewhere else?
This question cannot be answered categorically. Successes and failures of the pilot also must be evaluated at two levels: (1) How well did the pilot project demonstrate successful models of collaborative management; and (2) To what extent did it achieve the goals established in the Community Stability Proposal. Full answers to these questions are best found in the Independent Science Panel report [linked when public].

(1.) The Act happened at a unique moment in the history of federal lands management and the start of an era of new thinking on how local communities who know the resource and its importance could potentially influence how lands are managed. The Quincy Library Group, the Community Stability proposal, and the HFQLG Act became national examples and helped usher in new thinking on how collaboration can help resolve disputes on national forest management. Since the Act was passed in 1998, or when QLG was formed in 1992, the Forest Service has increasingly worked with landscape-scale diverse partnerships involving companies and environmental groups. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program and growing use of stewardship contracting are both evidence of these changes.

In regards to the relationships and conflicts that led enactment of the HFQLG Act, achievements are uncertain.  Conflict, or disagreements manifesting in administrative appeals and lawsuits, did not disappear.  In some ways conflict might have escalated in the years following the passage of the Act, as some environmental groups were disaffected by the Act and disengaged from subsequent QLG meetings--and worried about the potential impacts of harvesting goals that had been established, opposed some projects. While administrative appeals and litigation were few in number, they had a variety of direct and indirect effects.

(2.) Meanwhile the project did not accomplish what was intended in terms of acres treated, timber sold, etc.  For sawlogs, the resource most valued by the local forest products industry, the project fell well short, accomplishing roughly 28% of what was anticipated year to year. The injection in the local economy intended by the timber objectives (the “stability”) of QLG’s stability proposal fell short. Stability in the calculus of the Act equated to volume of sawlogs, which was never achieved. Sawlog harvest plummeted from the start in 1999 and only partially recovered, not entirely explained but perhaps later sustained by the economic downturn.

Other types of projects identified in QLG’s community stability proposal were more successful. The treatments designed to engineer Defensible Fuel Profile Zones, or long quarter-mile swaths of forests that were thinned such that a fire could be countered successfully, constituted the majority of the more than 240,000 acres eventually treated --not as much as hoped, but a significant accomplishment. Even though fires are events not easily analyzed in a robust statistical way, it appeared that these treatments were successful in helping slow and fight wildfire. Yet fires happened, in some cases moving through areas that had been planned for treatments which had been delayed.

8. What did the pilot do that was most useful for continuing or trying somewhere else?
The Independent Science Panel felt that the use of scientific information to document the progress of the Pilot and its impacts was a key feature of the HFQLG Act.  New scientific concepts in circulation among QLG members, and variants already in practice within the National Forest System, helped provide the initial foundation for dialogue among competing interests.  The Community Stability Proposal aimed for greater adoption of treatments that would restore forests, help fight fires, and reduce fire severity, while in the process generate income for local communities and protect critical natural resources. Information that definitively showed the efficacy of these approaches helped limit challenges and cultivate consensus.  Missing, incomplete, or unused information exacerbated conflict, uncertainty, and the vulnerability of the Forest Service to challenges.  If anything the HFQLG Act underinvested in the science supporting management. However the attention of the HFQLG Act to the scientific foundation for dialogue and adaptive management will only prove more important into the future.

9. How did the HFQLG Pilot Project affect other important management policies and objectives for the forests that were involved?
Once the HFQLG Act was enacted, it needed to be adopted in the planning for an area of three national forests which it affected.  In a Record of Decision (ROD) the Forest Service proposed to establish and implement the pilot project by amending, as needed, management direction in the Land and Resource Management Plans for the Lassen, Plumas, and Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest. The established purpose of the HFQLG pilot project was to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of certain resource management activities designed to meet ecological, economic, and hazardous fuel reduction objectives. However these goals and activities--those established by the Community Stability Proposal--by no means encompass all that managers of these three forests are charged with carrying out.  So the goals and activities established in the by the Act were embedded in a much broader program of work.  Before implementation, and as required by statute, the Forest Service developed an extensive assessment of how alternate ways of adopting the CSP would impact the forests and surrounding communities (i.e. the HFQLG Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). 

Other major new policies and plans also had to be adopted in concert with implementation of the pilot. These additional priorities would ultimately shape the Forest Service management direction, and how the HFQLG Pilot Project was implemented.  One prominent example was the California Spotted Owl Technical Assessment Team’s spotted owl management strategy (CASPO; Verner et al. 1992).  The Forest Service also developed a region-wide forest management strategy called the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan (commonly called the Sierra Nevada Framework, SNF) that was enacted in 2001 and revised in 2004. The SNF established region-wide guidelines for national forest management activities. Of particular note were limitations on the size of trees allowed for harvesting.

10. What were the Key Findings of the Independent Science Panel?
The Independent Science Panel identified Key Findings addressing the central question posed by the HFQLG Act—i.e. “. . . whether, and to what extent, implementation of the pilot project under this section achieved the goals stated in the Quincy Library Group-Community Stability Proposal, including improved ecological health and community stability.” While the Key Findings and the HFQLG Act address a number of resource management issues affected by the HFQLG pilot project, three major issues were of particular concern: (1) the economic stability of local communities (Key Findings 1, 2, and 3), (2) fire effects (Key Findings 4 and 5), and (3) the California spotted owl (Key Finding 6). Other Key Findings address water resources and watershed condition (Key Findings 7 & 9), and adverse impacts on other resources especially species of concern (Key Finding 8). The history of California spotted owl policy and forest management is included in Appendix II to illustrate how relevant events shaped management decisions leading up to the HFQLG Act and subsequent amendments (USDA 2001, 2004).


 
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