Future of the Forest Service: Management Plans and Implementation Contracts?

Mike articulated the below thoughts on a thread on privatization of campgrounds… I think this is worthy of discussing more broadly, both in the context of Char’s piece on land management needs and budget realities here and as a piece of the whole “privatization” question (discussed here and previously).

so here is what Mike said in this comment:

It could very well be that we are seeing the end of FS employees actually implementing management plans and, instead, moving into a time where the agency puts together management plans in conjunction with public and then contracts out all implementation (we’re practically there in most cases anyhow). These wold be longer-term contracts with multiple-year objectives. The benefit in doing business this way is that if the FS is legally bound by contract, the funding to fulfill the contract is much more likely to be included within future FS budgets.

Another place where this kind of thing might fit well would be in fulfilling the FS mandate to perform adequate monitoring, following project implementation (e.g. forest thinning projects). In this scenario, the FS would still need funding for enforcement of contract terms for whatever the concessionaire (or contractor) is doing, but it could still pencil out as a costs savings to the public. personally think this is a really interesting topic and would enjoy exploring this further…

I’m interested in a couple of things… first, do you agree with “we’re practically there?”
Second, the idea of legally binding contracts – how could we make them flexible enough to respond to changing needs and also yet solid enough to be meaningful?

Other’s thoughts and comments would be appreciated.

19 thoughts on “Future of the Forest Service: Management Plans and Implementation Contracts?”

  1. One study that probes this issue in Oregon is Brinda Sarathy’s Pineros: Latino Labour and the Changing Face of Forestry in the Pacific Northwest (UBC Press, 2012). Her focus on the dramatic rise of contract labor on FS and BLM lands is tied to immigration laws, economic forces, budgetary politics – among an array of pressures – and is an eye-opening account. So, yes, I think, we are practically there!

    • Why do you think the subject has been under the radar? Even those of us whose field experiences were before the dawn of time, or shortly thereafter, have observed bad working conditions under some contractors.

      • I should have said under-reported, in the press and the academy. There is a wonderful section in Brinda’s book in which she does content analysis of the Medford Mail Tribune (she worked in southern Oregon) and found a lot about the shift to contract labor but nothing said about worker’s conditions and plight.

        Char Miller, Director
        Environmental Analysis Program
        W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis
        Pomona College
        [email protected]
        Blog: Golden Green
        Environmental Analysis Program
        Pomona College
        185 E. Sixth St. – Rm 232
        Claremont CA 91711-7003

  2. Thanks for the link, Char. I ran across this a couple of weeks ago about the Black Hills of South Dakota, so those same forces may be more widespread than just the PNW.

    Since about January 2008, the four logging companies conspired to defraud the government by bidding on U.S. Forest Service contracts to thin timber using illegal immigrants, the indictment said. By using illegal immigrant workers who were paid less than the prevailing wage, the companies were able to successfully bid lower than other companies _ sometimes by as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    By employing illegal immigrants “who are not paid fair wages, benefits, and overtime as prescribed by law and as outlined in the contract, they are able to secure profits even when submitting what are much lower bids,” the indictment stated.

    Maybe a student somewhere could read the book and do a summary for those of us without time or access who would like to know the major observations of the author?


  3. wow – the irony is, as Brinda makes clear in her book, that the contractors managed to push out competitors in the PNW by getting the Oregon legislature to pass legislation requiring certain levels of wages! This is a new twist on that process; thanks for passing along. I will share with her (she is happily one of my colleagues)!

    • This blog is an endless learning opportunity.. I would have thought they would have to pay federal level wages, not determined by state law (??). I’m beginning to understand why natural resource folk might not want to wade into this. I wonder if Brinda has a one or two page summary that she could share?

    • Hi all, Brinda here. Thanks to Char for bringing me into this interesting thread. What an association of contractors in Oregon during the 1970s managed to do was to get cooperatives to comply with workers compensation provisions, which partly contributed to their demise (coops were unable to be competitive as a result, but also declined for other structural and internal reasons). It was interesting to see the prosecution of contractors in SD. I had heard about cases in Idaho, Washington and CA, but never SD. Thanks for the heads up on this. Char–this is yet another example of the intra-ethnic exploitation I touched in in my talk yesterday!

      • Thanks for contributing, Brinda, as you can see many of us are interested in this.
        I think some folks on this blog have direct experience that they might want to share.

        To clarify, do you mean the contractors got the cooperatives to comply with workers compensation, but didn’t do so themselves? That seems like a neat trick…

  4. Hi All,
    I am all for worker’s rights and any federal contract or otherwise ought to ensure safe working conditions and livable wages etc, but for me the conversation has taken a turn away from what is most interesting here. That is, whether moving further toward contracted implementation of FS management plans would allow for longer-term management plan implementation on NF, something most everyone agrees is desperately needed instead of the often piece-meal approach that happens today. Sharon raised an interesting question that pertains to whether contracting would/could allow for adaptive management (i.e How would contract terms be written to allow for adaptation but still hold the contractor and FS accountable?). This seems like a really interesting topic for discussion. Personally, I’m just not sure, but would be really interested in hearing of examples where this has been tried before, especially pertaining to National Forest management. As I think about this, though, one example may be found in the recently let 4-FRI contract in the southwest, which is a multiple-year contract to thin tens of thousands of acres of P-pine forest in just the first phase of the project. It seems like there would have to be clauses that account for adaptive management in the there. I’ll check and see.

    My other thought on this topic pertained to post-project monitoring required by law on NFs. Here, I think most people agree that the FS has a dismal track record when it comes to longer-term monitoring, and the reason often cited for this is that long-term monitoring requires consistent federal funding, long after a project is completed, and the reality is that the money often just doesn’t come through. I may be wrong here, but my sense is that if post-project monitoring funding was legally obligated through a multi-year contracts tied directly to on-the-ground projects, this could be an effective way of ensuring the motoring actually happens, which would then inform the adaptive management. I’m sure my take is overly simplistic and I welcome other responses. I would guess this has been done already at least on an ad hoc basis, but would like learn more about where and what kind of things resulted. What am I missing?

  5. Sharon,
    Contractors did comply with workers comp. So it wasn’t any sort of wool over the eyes or anything. But the move to “level the playing field” (in terms of laws) did partly contribute to the demise of coops. Coops were initially also able to low-bid since they didn’t have minimum wage requirements (as a worker you were also an owner, so could self-exploit). I think the point to keep in mind is that this type of work (now classified as ecosystem services) has always been extremely grueling and that white citizens who did it in the past, and the Latinos doing it now, faced labor violations and low wages. The difference today is that there is even greater exploitation among Latinos due to their vulnerable immigration status, language barriers, and obligation/ties to kinship networks. I have a whole chapter in the book that compares the situation of Anglo woods workers with Latino workers….lots more details and stats!

  6. Brinda, this is very interesting. In my memory. loggers tended to be independent contractors and own their own equipment.
    Have you seen differences based on the tasks that are contracted? Say reforestation, compared to logging? Where does firefighting fit into this (if at all?)

  7. In my much-younger years, I was briefly a member of the Hoedads reforestation cooperative, the first of its kind.

    One reason federal land management agencies prefer fly-by-night contractors who use undocumented workers is that the Hoedads were a political pain-in-the-arse. It was Hoedads, concerned about workplace safety from toxic chemicals, who launched the anti-herbicide spraying movement in the 1970s. Hoedads did on-the-ground research that showed reforestation could be successful without the use of chemicals. They led the fight to de-certify the widely-used herbicide 2,4,5-T from forest use. They helped bring the first successful anti-spraying federal court lawsuits.

    The original Hoedads had cut their activist teeth as college-age Vietnam War protesters. They were predisposed to challenge government and well schooled in the art of political activism. The Forest Service had never seen anything like it before. The Forest Service thought it was hiring get-along, go-along blue-collar workers. Instead, it ended up with radical activists on its contracted payroll.

    Imagine how happy federal agency employers became when fly-by-night contractors willing to abuse Latino labor came on the scene to undercut Hoedads’ contract bids. The Latino workers are uneducated, have no access to the political process, and are more concerned about sending money back to Mexico to support families than about long-term exposure to toxic chemicals or the niceties of forest ecology. Latino-based woods contractors put Hoedads and the other cooperatives out of business and ensured a workplace free from uppity, college-educated activists.

  8. Thanks, Andy, that’s what I remembered also (although I might not have said it quite the same way ;)). I remember some of them as passionate about the work and absolutely committed to doing the best job they could, while disagreeing with a variety of practices. But technical people with different experiences who really care always disagree (even/especially internally).

    But I don’t think that’s the whole story. My understanding is that the FARS (Federal Acquisition Regulations) require the lowest bidder (or to rationalize why not), and questioning contractors’ immigration practices is way outside the comfort zone/role of most FS contract folks.

    It would be interesting to hear from people working today who deal with this and what they think. If you don’t feel comfortable going public (even with an alias account), you could use an alias and send an email to me [email protected].

    • Oops.. thanks to Chelsea’s comment on the other thread, I found the Ecosystem Workforce Program at U of O’s site http://ewp.uoregon.edu/resources/contracting

      with this FS letter about “best value” contracting, and the approps language below. in the 2006 Appropriations HR 2361

      SEC. 420. In awarding a Federal contract with funds
      made available by this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture
      and the Secretary of the Interior (the ‘‘Secretaries’’) may,
      in evaluating bids and proposals, give consideration to
      local contractors who are from, and who provide employment and training for, dislocated and displaced workers in an economically disadvantaged rural community, including those historically timber-dependent areas that have been affected by reduced timber harvesting on Federal lands and other forest-dependent rural communities isolated from significant alternative employment opportunities: Provided, That the Secretaries may award contracts, grants or cooperative agreements to local non-profit entities, Youth Conservation Corps or related partnerhips with State, local or non-profit youth groups, or small
      or disadvantaged business or micro-business: Provided further, That the contract, grant, or cooperative agreement is for forest hazardous fuels reduction, watershed or water quality monitoring or restoration, wildlife or fish population monitoring, or habitat restoration or management:
      , That the terms ‘‘rural community’’ and ‘‘economically disadvantaged’’ shall have the same mean
      ings as in section 2374 of Public Law 101–624: Provided further, That the Secretaries shall develop guidance to im5plement this section: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as relieving the Secretaries of any duty under applicable procurement laws, except as provided in this section.


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