Stewardship Contracting Authority – What Do You Think?

One of my colleagues (not FS) asked the question “what are the pros and cons of stewardship contracting in your opinion?” My story has been it’s a good idea but you need trees to have positive economic value, so we have problems with that in large parts of the interior West.

We are interested in your stories… seems like members of our community share a variety of (thankfully, non-partisan!) perspectives and have on-the-ground experience. What’s been your experience? Are there things you would like to change about the program?

Thanks in advance for your ideas.

10 thoughts on “Stewardship Contracting Authority – What Do You Think?”

  1. I think we may need to consider expanding the use of log export waivers, to boost the value of forest treatments. Some areas like the LA Basin might benefit from thinning their unmanaged forests. Logs from certain species might fetch a pretty penny from an overseas source. We should carefully consider ways to accomplish the most non-commercial work as we can, from the value of the thinned logs, reinvesting it back into the forest, and putting people to work.

    PS On a side note, our young prep forester was just informed this week that his current position was being downsized and dissolved, in favor of having “Zone Foresters”. My Ranger District is like the Forest’s “red-headed step child”. It always seems like the most-distant Ranger District gets the least attention.

    • My fear in allowing federal timber to be exported is the trickle down effect on communities. Exporting raw logs would severely reduce the “direct response co-efficients” or multiplier effects of harvesting and processing logs. Its a trade off: more funds for restoration work that could employ local contractors, but less material for local mills and other wood/residue users….

      • Of course, there would be the appearance of competition with private timberlands, affecting local mills. That is where the careful part would come in. There could also suddenly be a shortage of quality logging contractors, as they would be key to getting all the work done. Then, there sould suddenly be a shortage of qualified work inspectors, who need to be really savvy with documentation and contract work. Those are people who can be very hard to come by, in any rural National Forest.

  2. Stewardship contracting is a great tool. The major benefits, in my mind, are the ability to award contracts on a best value basis, whereas traditional contracts must be awarded on a lowest bid basis. This allows the agency to take other factors into account such as certifications of contractors, plan to hire local workers, past experience, etc; Ability to use designation by description, whereby the expertise of the contractor can be utilized to select trees based upon an end result, rather than requiring the agency to mark cut or leave trees individually; and ability to keep the receipts from timber harvest on the forest rather then sending it back to the treasury, thereby allowing the local forest and stakeholders to determine the best use of the funds.

    The cons, for me, relate to the complexity of the bidding process which has alienated the smaller contractors in our region. And also, in better market years specifically, the inability of the Forest Service to use the retained receipts for multi-party monitoring. Finally, there are many working on the relationship of Stewardship Contracting and retained receipts and County Payments, as these dollars, since they do not go through the treasury, do not trickle down to county governments.

    • Chelsea, if the forest can keep the receipts, I see why that’s a problem for county payments, but if it keeps them, why can’t they use the funds for multi-party monitoring?

      • Sharon,
        I think I misspoke. The Forest Service does have the ability to fund multi-party monitoring, but I know of only a few cases where it has. That said, it really then related back to the lack of timber value in the interior west, especially now when markets are so poor.

        As for the bidding process, I’m still trying to understand it, but bonding can be a barrier, bidding itself can be a barrier because of the time and effort needed to put together a technical proposal, and delays in getting paid have caused significant challenges for small businesses some small businesses I know of.

        This is what I have heard here in Montana, from what I understand this is not the case in other regions. Smaller contractors have been pretty successful in other regions. In Montana many if not most of the stewardship contracts are sold to mills. And mills have their preferred sub-contractors, so not everyone has equal access to the work.

        I think a lot of it comes down to how the contract is put together. It seems there is actually quite a bit of flexibility and variation as to how the authority is put to use. Single award, multi-year contracts with a variety of work are not going to appeal to smaller contractors, as they are higher risk and require higher capacity to manage the sub-contracting, etc. Multiple award IDIQ contracts have the potential to meet the needs of smaller contractors if they can bid on smaller task orders as they come out, and only on the ones for which they are equipped to do.

        I am also intrigued by this idea of separating the log from the logger by selecting a pool of buyers and a pool of contractors for a stewardship contract and then requesting bids for logs from the buyers and bids for the work from the contractors. That way the loggers are just paid to provide the service of harvesting logs and deliver them to the selected mill, and the Forest Service then collects the money for the logs from the mill with the highest bid. This way the risk is shared, rather than solely on the shoulders of the logger.

        • Below are some recommendations from the Western Governors’ Forest Health Advisory Commmittee
          here is the link, click on large scale forest health resolution on the left hand column.

          Approaches like Stewardship end-result contracting and multi-year contracts are important tools for landscape-scale restoration, but they have not yet been operationalized at scales large enough to meet many larger-scale restoration goals.
          Stewardship end-result contracting is a flexible tool that can be valuable in implementing multi-year and large-scale treatments on federal lands to compliment other important work being completed across management boundaries. Two federal agencies, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, were given broad authority in 2003 to use stewardship contracts and agreements. Since then, a number of field-level projects have demonstrated the potential of stewardship contracting to facilitate the effective and efficient accomplishment of a broad range of activities within large-scale treatment projects.
          Multi-year contracts are an important tool for large-scale restoration but are not typically used because of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requirement for a contingent liability or “cancellation ceiling” reserve. Requiring the full cancellation liability amount to be set aside can be prohibitively expensive and creates a disincentive for federal agencies to enter into multi-year stewardship contracts. The Government Accountability Office studied this issue and noted in November 2008 that the Forest Service needs to find new strategies to fund the cancellation ceiling. Administrative and legislative options should be explored to alleviate or fund the burden of cancellation liability requirements for multi-year stewardship contracts while ensuring contract obligations are met.

          • I believe that the issue with cancellation ceilings has since been addressed. However, the report Sharon excepted above also includes this statement:
            “interpretations and uses of the special authorities
            available through stewardship contracting have varied between the agencies and among field units, unnecessarily restricting use of the tool in many instances. For
            example, the authorization from Congress allows for “retained receipts” from
            stewardship contracting, yet the administrative policy prohibits the use of retained
            receipts for planning and monitoring, which are essential to stewardship contracting


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading