Agony of Quincy
July 21, 2009. House Chamber, Washington, D.C. M. Speaker: I want to thank my colleague from Utah, Mr. Bishop, for organizing this special order for the House tonight, and for the attention he has devoted to the suffering in my district caused by the lunatic fringe of the environmental movement that seems to be so firmly in control of our national policy on public lands.
A generation ago, we recognized the importance of proper wild lands management. We recognized that nothing is more devastating to the ecology of a forest than a forest fire. And we recognized that public lands should be managed for the benefit of the public. We recognized that in any living community – including forests – dense over-population is unhealthy.
And so we carefully groomed our public lands, removed excessive vegetation and gave timber the room it needed to grow. Surplus timber and undergrowth were sold for the benefit of our communities. Our forests prospered and our economy prospered. And forest fires were far less numerous and far less intense than we see today.
But that was before a radical ideology was introduced into public policy – that we should abandon our public lands to overpopulation, overgrowth, and in essence, benign neglect.
We are now living with the result of that ideology. Forest fires, fueled by decades of pent up overgrowth are now increasing in their frequency and intensity and destruction.
One victim of this wrong-headed policy is the environment itself. Recent forest fires in my region make a mockery of all of our clean-air regulations. Anyone who has seen a forest after one of these fires knows that the environmental devastation could not possibly be more complete.
These policies also carry a serious economic price. Timber is a renewable resource – if properly managed it is literally in inexhaustible source of prosperity. And yet, a region blessed with the most bountiful resource in the state has been rendered economically prostrate. A region that once prospered from its surplus timber now is ravaged by fires that are fueled by that surplus timber.
Which brings me to the story of the townspeople of Quincy and Camino, both little towns in the northeast corner of California.
Two months ago, 150 families in each of those little towns received notice that the saw mills that employ them must close. The company made it very clear in its announcement that although the economic downturn was the catalyst, the underlying cause was the fact that 2/3 of the timber they depended upon was held up by environmental litigation.
Despite the recession, they still had enough business to keep the mills open --– and to keep these families employed – if the environmental Left had not cut off the timber those mills depended upon.
Now bear in mind that the population of the town of Quincy is about 400 families – the greater Quincy area about 1,250 families. And it’s not just the 150 families who have lost their incomes. Many more lost jobs indirectly – the folks who drive the trucks and sell the supplies – all lost their jobs as well.
This occurred despite the ground-breaking work of a local coalition called the Quincy Library Group that forged a model compromise between environmental, business and forest management advocates a decade ago. Their work culminated in legislation titled, the Herger Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act. It was adopted 11 years ago in this very room by a vote of 429 to 1.
This consensus agreement provided for sound and sustainable forest management practices that in turn would support both local jobs and healthier forests.
As Sen. Feinstein pointed out at the time, every single environmental law, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act, will be followed as this proposal is implemented.”
Yet despite a model compromise that produced a model law, the will of the Congress, the livelihoods of hundreds of innocent families, and the fire safety of scores of mountain communities is being challenged and undermined by a constant stream of litigation from groups purporting to support the environment.
I say “purporting,” because, as the website of one of these groups declares, their number one policy goal is to – quote – “eliminate commercial logging on all public lands in California.” Their policy is not to protect the environment, but to destroy commercial enterprise.
We held an informal hearing in Quincy after the mill closures. And the stories we heard at that hearing were heart-breaking.
It is a story of how, despite the law, this constant litigation – which is ultimately rejected by the courts – has nevertheless delayed implementation of the Forest Recovery Act until the mills collapse. And that’s what we’re dealing with today.
We then held a formal hearing here in Washington. And from that hearing, Congressman Herger has introduced a bill, HR 2899, to prevent frivolous litigation from continuing to destroy these jobs and continuing to impede the fire-safety measures so vital to the preservation of these forests. And I am in the final stages of preparing legislation to at least grant litigation relief for the land within the Quincy Library Group territory.
And this legislation is already being attacked by the same radical groups responsible for the litigation and regulation that is destroying our forests.
These extremists even oppose the salvaging of timber that’s already been destroyed by forest fires or disease. Think about this – trees that are already dead – cannot be salvaged because of lawsuits filed by these extremist groups. They know that if they can delay salvage for two years, the trees decay to the point that they can’t be recovered.
And they would rather let those trees rot on the ground than to be removed and salvaged to provide jobs for families and lumber for homes across America.
The economic suffering this is now causing is immediate and acute. But an even more ominous effect is placing at risk our mountain communities and our national forests to intense wildfires made possible because overgrowth is no longer being removed. And as one forester told me, the overgrowth will come out of the forest one way or the other – it will either be carried out or burned out.
When it was carried out, we had a thriving lumber industry that put food on the tables and clothes on the children of thousands of working families throughout Northern California. More importantly, we also had much healthier forests and far fewer and milder forest fires than we suffer today.
This is not environmentalism. True environmentalists recognize the damage done by overgrowth and overpopulation and recognize the role of sound forest management practices in maintaining healthy forests.
We are watching them systematically shut down our public land for public use and public benefit.
And every time a little town like Quincy or Camino is strangled to death by these policies, it has a ripple effect throughout the nation. Our nation loses tax revenues, commerce withers, the price of raw materials rise, public resources are diverted to provide economic relief. And our forests suffer as well.
But there’s an infinitely higher cost as well, and that brings me to the tragic news I must impart to the House tonight. There is a raging fire in the Shasta/Trinity National Forest as we speak right now. It is called the “Backbone Fire.” About an hour ago, we received word that a young man, Thomas Marovich, Jr. – 20 years old – from the little town of Adin in my district, was killed this afternoon fighting that fire.
And every time a little town like Adin mourns the loss of a promising young man like Thomas Marovich, Jr. it is not only a tragedy – if preventable it is an outrage.
Mr. Speaker, the time has come for the great silent majority of Americans to rise up against the most radical elements of the environmental movement that now seem to control so much of our public policy, and to demand that we restore our public land for public use and public benefit, and that we restore the sound forest management practices that once minimized the forest fires that are now again destroying communities and taking lives.