QLG – Granddaddy of Place-Based Collaboration

The granddaddy of place-based national forest legislation is the 1998 Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act (“QLG”), which resulted from a 1993 collaborative group “community stability proposal.”  So how has the law worked out?  Here’s what the Forest Service reported in its latest QLG monitoring report:

Implementation of the Pilot Project continues to be affected by litigation and appeals. Court decisions are pending on cases that have been in litigation for up to four years. In FY08, approximately 90 percent of all timber sales or service contracts across the HFQLG Pilot Project area were stalled due to litigation or appeals. As a result, volume of both sawlogs and biomass sold declined by 50 percent from FY07 levels.

Since 1998, QLG-area sawlog volume sold averaged less than 20% of the 1992-1997 average level.  Forest Service expenses have stayed constant, but timber revenues have declined to 35% of pre-QLG law levels.  Forest industry jobs have dropped 25% and several of the area’s largest sawmills have closed.

The Forest Service bureaucracy is the major beneficiary, as QLG proved to be a magnet for federal spending.  But few would argue that the original “community stability” goal was realized, nor, perhaps, could changes in natural resource policy alone alter the downward economic trajectory suffered by most of the West’s rural communities.

Modern-day proponents of similar schemes, e.g., Beaverhead-Deerlodge and eastern Oregon legislative proposals, would do well to learn from QLG’s experience.

3 thoughts on “QLG – Granddaddy of Place-Based Collaboration”

  1. I agree completely that place-based LEGISLATION does not work. I have never seen it. However, place-based restoration agreements do work and have worked in more than a dozen places that I am aware of, and I have heard of more. It seems to me that the idea behind place-based legislation is the false premise that something is wrong with the law. “Give us a new law, or change the old law, and wow, great things will happen here.”

    If all you can think of to “make things work” is to change the law, then things will never work there. The law is never the problem. I really want to repeat that. THE LAW IS NEVER THE PROBLEM. It may be a symptom of a problem, but I have NEVER seen an issue where the one and only reason it could not be solved was a law. People who come together honestly and openly can always find cooperative solutions to some (SOME, not ALL) problems on a forest, regardless of what the law is. But usually, some is enough to get folks working and working together for decades to come.

    Now, I agree that carefully-constructed, targeted changes to laws CAN be made that help facilitate better management, but those are changes to the law as it applies everywhere, not to just one place. Asking for a legal exemption for “your place” is a recipe for failure. Human laws, like natural laws such as gravity, MUST apply everywhere and apply the same, or they will not work, at best. At worst, they create a chaos of special interest legality. To ask for your own law for your own forest or your own situation is the last resort of people who have not been willing to identify the real problem: themselves.

  2. It would be great if we could hear from someone involved as to their views on what they were trying to do and how it worked for them. If anyone has ideas for people who could submit an entry from that perspective, let me know or invite them to post something here.

  3. These place-based efforts, the Applegate Partnership, QLG, Colville, Blue Mountains, the Tester Bill, the Weaverville Community Forest, the Blackfoot Challenge, the Swann Valley Plum Creek buy-out, the Upper Joseph Watershed, the Gifford Pinchot, the Olympic National Forest, the Colorado Front Range, the Calaveras Conservancy…are occuring everywhere. Early innovators like QLG painted very bright bull’s eyes on themselves as they tried their iteration of solving these very “wicked problems”: No clear agreement on what defines “public good”, no clear agreement on what constitutes “best science”, no clear agreement on how to learn together, no clear agreement on who should be in charge. By their very definiation, wicked problems cannot be solved at the 3,000 ft “national level”. Yet, without appropriate “national laws” local solutions have no protection and cannot move forward….so QLG gets the appeals, Region 1 gets the appeals. NFMA, NEPA, Planning Rules….iteration after iteration. The entire system is broken and yet we are trapped in it. So, of course people try place-based laws. But those bills, QLG, Tester, Wyden, were brokered by “certain” interest groups and will not go through the NFMA/NEPA/ public process…why? Because NFMA/NEPA is inadequate to the task. When a system doesn’t work for anybody, then the most powerful interests, with access to political power and money will ask for their “exceptions and earmarks”. Moving forward with those “exceptions and earmarks” lets everyone off the hook…the politicians can placate the most powerful interests (as surrogates for the rest of us) WITHOUT ADDRESSING THE SYSTEM-WIDE “WICKED-PROBLEMS.” Then adding to the complication, and therefore, the wickedness of the problem, these place-based bills are imposing permanent “zoning” on natural systems going through rapid change as they adapt to climate influences. “Permanent designations” are for control, not good management. Good management must embrace change. Management in times of rapid change must stay as fluid and dynamic as the landscape. When a place-based bill addresses that, when it creates a system of trust, monitoring,and responsiveness, then we will have the next useful iteration to move us forward.


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