Stewardship contracting, unlike conventional U.S. Forest Service contracting tools, offers a creative way to incentivize restoration by paying contractors in full or part with the value of the restoration "byproducts" that are extracted during a project. It also allows the agency to award contracts based on overall best value to the government and local communities rather than lowest bid at the time. Stewardship contracts that exercise these authorities are desirable because they address significant challenges to habitat restoration and local economic development faced by rural communities.
Stewardship contracting successes in other states provide excellent models of the ecological, social, and economic benefits of this tool, but as the Forest Service works to translate stewardship contracting to the unique geography of the Tongass, there are significant concerns that must be addressed about how and what goals are being met.
What We Love
Stewardship contracting is the primary mechanism under which the U.S. Forest Service can implement best value contracting and enhance local benefits from projects, while responding more nimbly and effectively to mounting landscape-scale restoration needs. The intent of stewardship contracting is to "blend the need to restore and maintain healthy forests with the need to work closely with communities," which is why collaboration with communities is required throughout a stewardship project. Priority project types include watershed restoration, wildlife and fish habitat, invasive species removal, and other activities related to improving forest health.
Under stewardship contracting, the Forest Service has several unique authorities at its disposal designed to maximize the value of projects for both the Federal government and the local community. Best value contracting, which can allow the agency to rank bids based on criteria such as "local business" or "materials and supplies purchased locally," is the only required authority. Others, such as the ability to trade goods for services, may be applied to suit individual projects. Together, stewardship contracting authorities allow local districts to integrate multiple projects into one efficient package; reinvest profits back into the landscapes they came from; actively support local economic development and capacity building; and focus on end result ecosystem benefits.
What We Don't Support
Although forests in other states have utilized stewardship contracting with great success for almost a decade, southeast Alaska is only just beginning to explore its potential. Experiments with stewardship contracting are taking place on Prince of Wales Island and in Kake, but unresolved questions about how the various authorities can and should be used are stifling experimentation and distracting the agency's focus from accomplishing broader goals.
A particular barrier to implementing stewardship contracts in southeast Alaska has been the "goods for services" authority, which many consider a necessary component of the tool (although as stated above, the only mandatory authority is best value contracting). In states like Oregon, California, and Montana, where restoration projects can be paid for by selling byproducts to local pellet mills and other operations, this authority is a perfect fit. In landscapes like those that dominate southeast Alaska, however—where young growth is less mature, further from markets, and therefore less valuable—it is far less applicable.
Although trading goods for services is optional, and only one of many opportunities offered by stewardship contracting, districts in this region have begun resorting to large old growth sales to pay for restoration in a misguided attempt to force a fit. Using old growth to offset restoration costs is unheard of elsewhere in the country and, we believe, a gross misapplication of the law. The goods for services authority was designed to encourage local market integration and provide a more economical way to accomplish restoration objectives; large old growth sales do not fit this model, nor do they contribute to a key intent of stewardship contracting, which is to improve forest and watershed health.
As successes in the lower 48 have shown, stewardship contracting can be an effective way to enhance local economic development through restoration, but recent experiences in southeast Alaska remind us that focusing too intently on implementing a specific tool can lead to losing sight of the ideals that it represents. In this case, stewardship contracting is not the only method by which the Forest Service can engage in habitat restoration, collaboration with communities, project integration, best value contracting and local capacity building. In cases where restoration byproducts have no value, we would like to see the agency concentrate on exercising best value/local benefit contracting, long-term contracts, collaboration, and other applicable authorities; if this is not possible, we suggest that the agency use tools other than stewardship contracting to accomplish these goals.
Additional resources on stewardship contracting:
- Stewardship Contracting: Basic Stewardship Contracting Concepts (USDA brochure)
- Everything You Wanted to Know About Stewardship Contracting (USDA slideshow)
- Stewardship Contracting and Collaboration - Best Practices Guidebook(Sustainable Northwest)
- Best Value & Stewardship Contracting Guidebook - Meeting Ecological and Community Objectives(Sustainable Northwest)
- Click here for links to USDA stewardship contracting legislation and policy direction.
."Everything You Wanted to Know about Stewardship End Result Contracting… But Didn't Know What to Ask." USDA Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management. Available online at: http://www.fs.fed.us/forestmanagement/stewardship/index.shtml.