Permanent Authorization for Stewardship Contracting

Arlington, Virginia; February 7, 2014 — Some of the biggest winners in the passage of the long-awaited, five-year Farm Bill earlier this week were communities, forest products industries and conservationists looking to do active forest restoration. In particular, the inclusion of permanent authority for stewardship end-result contracting will further empower local communities to address forest and fire concerns, while benefiting timber, recreation and conservation interests.  Without this authorization the program would have expired.

Stewardship Contracting authority essentially allows the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to manage wood products to help pay their way out of the woods and into local economies, while leaving forest and streams in better condition. This program was previously authorized in 2003 for 10 years, and extended for one year in the FY 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act.

In 2013, the Forest Service awarded 195 stewardship contracts and agreements, treated over 171,000 acres with mechanical thinning and prescribed burns, improved over 36,000 acres of forest vegetation and 72,000 acres of wildlife habitat and reduced hazardous fuels on 69,000 acres while making 865,000 tons of biomass available for energy production. Last year, Stewardship Contracting accounted for over one-quarter of all timber harvested from national forests.

The Forest Service estimates 82 million acres of its forested lands (an area the size of Oregon and West Virginia combined) need immediate restoration due to insects, fire and drought. Many approaches are needed to make progress.

“By providing permanent stewardship contracting authority, the Farm Bill provides certainty to communities, industry and conservationists to expand the collaborative forestry that improves the health of our federal forests that desperately need attention” says Chris Topik, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Restoring America’s Forests program. “This complements federal funding and local and state participation in conservation without additional tax-payer expense.”

“The Farm Bill provides many new tools — expanded forest health provisions, designation by description authority, expanded Good Neighbor Authority and permanent authority for Stewardship Contracting — aimed at increasing the pace and scale of forest management on the national forests,” says Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition.

“We are elated that Stewardship Contracting authority will become permanent, and thank Senate and House leadership for including this in the Farm Bill,” says Darrel L Kenops, executive director, National Association of Forest Service Retirees. “This contracting tool has become a key method of working with diverse partners in improving the health of America’s forests and grasslands.”

American Forests is extremely pleased with the permanent authorization of Forest Stewardship. It is an important tool to help the Forest Service accomplish important restoration work through increased wood products management including prescribed burns and thinning.

America’s forests cover one-third of the United States; store and filter half our nation’s water; provide jobs to more than a million wood products workers; absorb 13 percent of all U.S. carbon emissions; generate more than $13 billion in recreation and other related economic activity on Forest Service lands alone; and provide habitat to thousands of American wildlife and plant species.

This past decade has experienced a 54 percent increase in acres burned by fires (since 1960).  Many factors have contributed to this increase in fire frequency and severity, including changes in climate, a build-up of hazardous fuels and an increase in the number of homes and other structures built into forests. Since the 1970s, the fire season has expanded by two months and the average size of fires has increased by a factor of five.