Tom Quinn Comes to Town

posted 2/3/10

Tom Quinn Came To Town

A tense, red-faced, but still very Will Farrell looking Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn appeared at the Sierra County Board of Supervisors to face off against a room full of angry citizens and what he called a hostile press.

We’ll say straight up that the appearance was mostly show. Absolutely nothing could be resolved in the courthouse in Sierra County, when most of the problems arise as public policy way, way back in Washington D.C. Since it was mostly human drama, that’s how we’re going to report it.

The room was packed, the Board was grim faced. Even though Quinn controls hundreds of staff and four ranger districts, the Board felt he was on their turf to explain himself.

The public meeting began with Supervisor Peter Huebner briefly describing again the events during which three people were removed from the shacks at Dredge III/Jack Nixon’s Mine. He began calmly but was quickly moved to anger.

There was anger in the gallery, too. First speakers were old timers. The packed room made for poor acoustics, and it wasn’t possible to catch the name of the first speaker. However, his words were clear, the Nixon Mine was only the most recent, there have been others and the Forest Service continues to intimidate people.

Next was Bob Stuler, who said he couldn’t sleep for fear of the Forest Service. He reminded everyone of Ruby Ridge.

Ruby Ridge, for those who don’t recall, was an instance when a family was largely destroyed by federal gunslingers in Idaho. Read about it HERE.

Former County Supervisor Donna Hayes took the podium to describe the local carnage by the Forest Service. She detailed cabins that had disappeared, history and culture that had been lost, and people who had been displaced. She spoke about the loss of private land, and the loss of Forest Service revenue to the county. She spoke about the schools and the declining enrollment, and the loss of timber and mining jobs. She spoke up for Bob Stuler, and worried he might be the next miner to go.

Bob Wilder spoke next. He professed a familiarity with Sierra County, and of his membership in the Sierra Mining Industry Council (website here)

He said he’s seen the Forest Service in action, and they do act like totalitarians.

Miners have their equipment stolen all the time, the crowd was told. They have to live on site. Making it impossible for people to live on site makes it impossible to extract gold.

Don Breckle spoke: Don Wilson was so working the mine, he did every day when the weather permitted.

Ron Strong spoke next, saying it was clear that the BLM and Forest Service were trying to keep people off government land.

Todd Sloan, District 5 candidate, right foreground.

Todd Sloan spoke, stating what he’s said in a recent editorial about the "Nazi" like strategies of the Forest Service. He was very clear, the feds are not acting in the best interest, or the safety, of the people.

Next, looking either extremely upset, or ready for rehab, was TNF Supervisor Tom Quinn.

We did an internet search and discovered that Tom Quinn is a wonderfully common name, and one attached to a number of relatively successful people. One of them is TNF Supervisor Tom Quinn, who oversees 800,000 acres of government land, including our little corner of heaven.

According to his FS bio, Tom Quinn worked in Stanislaus National Forest as forest supervisor from 2002 to February, 2007, when he came to the TNF. He has a Ph.d. in Forestery and natural resources and taught for awhile. We know he made a presentation in 2008 on biomass that is worth reading again today, find it HERE

Happier Times: Tom Quinn
from your public lands website

Tuesday, Tom Quinn.

How relaxed Tom would be
if he were a movie star.

He has more than 28 years experience in the FS, which includes Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico, the Coronado National Forest in Arizona, and various positions with the Olympic NF in Washington, the Boise NF in Idaho, and the Malheur NF in Oregon.

However, he has also spent three years working in Washington D.C. working for Programs and Legislation Staff in the Forest Service National Office.

This last is significant. If, indeed, our problems start in Washington, Mr. Quinn should know how to solve that problem. True, his work in Washington was not with legislative action, it was with payments to the states. But, doesn’t he know how the system back there works? We’ve sent him a message, asking that question, asking literally "How can we prevent the Forest Service from destroying any more mines?"

On Tuesday, at the Board meeting, we didn’t hear about any solutions from Washington. We heard many things, excuses, complaints, allegations. Mostly, Mr. Quinn read from a prepared letter which had been sent to the Board.

It wasn’t very nice.

Mr. Quinn stated true facts: for the last several years, since before he came, the wheels have been moving to clean up Dredge III/Jack Nixon’s mine. There have been several trips to the site by various bureaucrats, federal and local. It was decided that, as a humanitarian gesture, they would wait until the ailing Jack Nixon died, and after his death, two new people moved in. He stated that there were many mailing boxes at the site, and presumed that one of the near homeless miscreants (his tone, but not his words) was running a business.

Mr. Quinn stated that Sierra County Health Department personnel had contacted the Forest Service siting several violations on the property and stating that it was the responsibility of the Forest Service to clean them up. We are requesting more information on that from Elizabeth Morgan.

He said that the men had been made homeless humanely. Their things were being stored and would be waiting for them (he didn’t say they had 90 days after which they would be auctioned).

At one point Mr. Quinn suggested that FS law enforcement of course carried guns, it didn’t mean they were going to shoot anyone without an excuse. At another point there was the suggestion that Sierra County residents might endanger Forest Service personnel. The crowd of mostly old miners scoffed, but Quinn’s fears have been realized against FS staff in other rural areas. Still, it made him sound petty, considering the massive power of the Forest Service.

He stated that Forest Service Law Enforcement doesn’t work for him, but they are experts. The evictions were legal. He was not going to tell people exactly when the event took place because locals might show up to stop them. It was a legal eviction.

There were pot growers in the forests, he said, clearly not knowing there were quite a few pot growers right in the room. There were meth freaks, and other criminals. Most Americans were glad these people were gone from the woods, he said. Many in the room disagreed there was such a problem; Chair Goicoechea frequently had to quiet the crowd.

Mr. Quinn took exception to terms used by some persons in the local press which suggested the Forest Service behaved like totalitarians. His father and grandfathers had fought wars, they didn’t do it to see their well paid bureaucrat offspring be called a Nazi.

It didn’t take too long before someone stood who actually had fought totalitarians; Tom back peddled a little.

No wonder he was confused about the negative reception. Tom was popular in Stanislaus; when he left, an article praised Tom for his work with locals. One quote:

We'll certainly miss Tom's charming personality and his ability to be open, honest and straightforward," said John Buckley, executive director of the Twain Harte-based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center. "I haven't always been happy with the decisions made, but I've appreciated that he has been forthright and a good person to communicate with."

The article goes on to say:

Because the new supervisor came to Sonora from the U.S. Forest Service's Washington, D.C. office, some may have feared that an out-of-touch bureaucrat was taking over. The opposite was true.

The rest of the glowing article is here.

As we read those words, we wondered if it really was Will Farrell who appeared before the Board, and not his obviously separated at birth twin. Tom Quinn, a person with 28 years working for a major bureaucracy, doesn’t know what a bureaucrat is.

A few sentences later, Mr. Quinn stated that he’d often had to do things in his job he wasn’t happy about.

That’s it, Mr. Quinn. That’s the definition of bureaucrat you were looking for: "someone who does something they don’t like or find morally distasteful for money." The term "bureaucrat" is the polite term for a person who makes that kind of transaction. We don’t mind that you are a bureaucrat, necessarily, and a good and well paid one, too, but for God’s sake, own up to it. "I, Tom Quinn, am a federal bureaucrat. I make a good living mostly reading papers and filling in forms, and I long for retirement."

Tom finished by saying he looked forward to working with Sierra County people further.

Lee Adams spoke next. He brought up several points.

First, the Grass Valley Union is not a paper of record in Sierra County.

Second, the Forest Service got its bad reputation over a period of years, it didn’t suddenly happen.

There is a suspicion that big government is too big. There was a movement to pull Law Enforcement powers from the Forest Service, this might be why.

Legal evictions have a very specific time and date.

Dave Goicoechia stated that the eviction may not have been illegal, but it was "inappropriate". He said, "if you aren’t going to learn from this, you’re in for some tough sledding."

Todd Sloan took another whack, telling the Forest Supervisor that it wasn’t illegal for people to watch, as they’d been told it was.

Supervisor Nunes quietly asked if there would be other such events? There will be, and there will be the road issue, which people won’t like, either. Indeed, we already don’t.

Donna Hayes: please don’t burn down anymore houses or cabins.

Dave Goicoechea: I know others want to speak, but we need to move on. This isn’t over.

Tim Beals gave some history: 1981, when the Forest Service moved out like a runaway husband, leaving the county less well off, and their buildings in a state of disrepair. If the Forest Service were more familiar with the county, maybe these things wouldn’t happen.

It is unlikely much will change. Tom didn’t destroy all the cabins, many happened before he got here, and if he leaves, the new FS supervisor will do the same.

There is no formulation in federal land use policy for "let old men live". There is no channel for Bob Stuler to say "please don’t drive me from my home."

Chances are, next time this happens, people will be more ready, but then what? Local citizens killed by trained federal agents? Let’s hope not, but at least this next time, people will stand as witnesses to the destruction.

Read the Forest Service letter yourself.

Page 1 here.

Page 2 here.

Down the Road: Tom will be appearing at:
Pre- and Post-Wildfire Forest Management
for Ecological Restoration and Fire Resiliency

February 9-11, 2010
McClellan Park Lecture Theater, Sacramento, California












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