WHITE MOUNTAINS — The White Mountain Stewardship Project is a good example of the first 10-year stewardship contract issued by the Forest Service, which was developed in the wake of the Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002. Though it was successful, there were issues; mainly the problems for wood products industries having enough supply to invest into infrastructure to process the wood over a relatively short time frame.
The Forest Service recently granted authority for 20-year stewardship contracts and agreements. But, there are still concerns as expressed in a letter from the Federal Timber Purchasers Committee sent to the Forest Service.
The Federal Timer Purchasers Committee is part of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, a national non-profit trade association representing a diverse coalition of federal timber purchasers, conservation groups, and county governments. With over 650 member companies in 32 states, FFRC members employ over 390,000 people and produce over $19 billion in annual payroll.
Representatives from the group attended a Four Forests Restoration Initiative (4FRI) meeting in Flagstaff in May and wrote another letter as a follow-up to the meeting because “we want to see successful implementation of the 4FRI project.”
The list of concerns and suggestions is long. In both letters the main concern is that the Forest Service doesn’t have a contract that will guarantee a 10 or 20-year supply of wood.
“In order to attract a contractor with the financial and logistical wherewithal to invest tens of millions of dollars, build facilities, coordinate logging and trucking contractors and support businesses and perform the contract” — they need a guaranteed wood supply.
Good Earth Power was initially awarded the contract for the 4FRI project, and has since changed hands. They failed to meet any of the thinning goals or build-up in facilities for the four forests — Cococnino, Tonto, Kaibab and Apache-Sitgreaves in Northern Arizona over the 10-year contract.
Another major concern is the low value of the wood that reduces the profits in the Ponderosa pine forests that make up the area.
“From our discussions and observations, the saw timber in the 4FRI area is mostly low-grade. We recommend that the Forest Service be very transparent and flexible regarding large tree retention requirements, small tree and other biomass removal requirements, merchantability specs, and slash disposal requirements … keep in mind that a few good saw logs per acre can make a significant difference in project economics.”
The letters also express concerns that shorter-term contracts and additional timber sales outside the stewardship contracts be utilized in ensure a steady supply.
“Recent experience has shown that it is unwise to put all — or even the vast majority — of a Forest’s sale program into a single long-term contract. When this is done and performance issues surface, the Forest Service finds it difficult to adjust or offer work for competitive bidding. Investment in new management capacity — such as logging equipment, or infrastructure, such as mills or biomass power plants — is disincentivized.”
Other suggestions and recommendations offered by the group include:
• alignment between the Forest Service, local governments, and local stakeholders on the need for a 20-year contract,
• any contractor selected must have proven capacity to perform over the length of a long-term contract,
• predictability about the wood supply and operating requirements must be provided,
• any contract must contain enforceable performance milestones and accountability mechanisms for each party,
• sole source sale of timber should not be allowed,
• a higher degree of consistency and transparency is needed regarding stewardship agreements by the Forest Service than has been historically apparent.
Both letters contained more specific, detailed recommendations on all aspects of the contracts and agreements.
How this will affect the White Mountain forests in the future and how long it will take before more restoration of the forests is conducted are still questions left unanswered. It is a race against time to get the work done to save our forests and communities from catastrophic wildfires.