Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Stewardship contracts benefit local forest

by Brandon Roberts & Western News
| November 12, 2008 11:00 PM

Contracting opportunities for the U.S. Forest Service and smaller logging operations are bursting onto the local scene through the Healthy Forest Restoration Act.

Quinn Carver, Kootenai National Forest natural resources staff officer, says the stewardship contracts offer a goods-for-services approach to forest management. In addition, the new outlet keeps people in the woods and allows companies to sell harvested products.

“We want to see healthy forests out there,” Carver said. “The beauty is that we need this removed from the forest and the stewardship contracting allows it to happen.”

Forest Service stewardship projects are not awarded on a bottom dollar bid, but rather for local benefit. Carver said contracts improve local forest infrastructure like roads and culverts, or help restore watershed and fishery structure by allowing the contractor to keep the value of the product in trade for the service.  

Carver noted that much of the stewardship contracting around Libby is with smaller diameter trees in wildland urban interface areas. The Kootenai River North project features two individual stewardship contracts awarded to Vaagen Brothers Lumber.

The 1,400-acre project focuses on fuel treatment within the wildland urban interface north of Libby.

“Keep in mind that stewardship contracts make up a relatively small portion of our total projects,” Carver said. “Another thing that has spawned out of this is the USFS is trying to find a way to develop and supply a new market.”

Carver added that the Kootenai National Forest has a whole backlog of thinning that needs to take place. He said the problem is that under conventional contracts, the profit does not make the project worthwhile.

With stewardship contracting, Carver sees the opportunity to get more thinning and fuel treatment projects accomplished to promote a healthy forest.

Carver said the limitations to stewardship projects involve the lack of federal funding through the Payment in Lieu of Taxes. Standard contracts apply 25 percent back to the county coffers. The other limitation, he pointed out, is the length of a contract, which ends up being relatively short. 

Ed Levert, Lincoln County forester said the stewardship contract allows folks to help themselves. He would like to see more long-term contracting take place within the Kootenai. As an example, Levert referred to a 10-year, 150,000-acre stewardship contract in Arizona called the White Mountains project.

“The Kootenai has been utilizing the stewardship contracting,” Levert said, “only it is for short-term use.”

Levert said a main region of concern is the wildland interface that is arbitrarily set as a two-mile perimeter around communities. He is satisfied with the Kootenai River North project, believing the work done should mitigate catastrophic fire.

“With what has been accomplished, if a fire were to start, it would stay on the ground and be more easily managed than if it were a crown fire,” he said.

Levert added that the appropriated Secure Rural Schools funding could be an opportunity “to do some creative things.” He believes the county can use the additional money to bolster fuel treatment projects.

Levert has also been working on a grant for Lincoln County to map a fire spread risk assessment.

“The county is huge,” he said, “Just keep taking one bit at a time and hope to start catching up.”