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Stories from the Field: 5 Down, 5 To Go

October 9, 2009

5 Down, 5 To Go: Lessons Learned from the White Mountain Stewardship Project in Arizona

The first and only 10-year stewardship contract in the U.S. is marking the halfway point this year, and many are calling it a success: economically, socially and ecologically. The White Mountain Stewardship Project contract was awarded by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona to Future Forests, LLC in 2004. Now, five years later, independent analysis by a private consulting firm has shown that over $14 million has been invested in nearby communities as a result of the project and almost 34,000 acres have been treated.

The goals of the 10-year project are to:

* Restore forest health
* Reduce the risk of fire to communities
* Reduce the cost of forest thinning to taxpayers
* Support local economies, and
* Encourage new wood products industries and uses for the thinned wood fiber

Early collaboration with diverse stakeholders on the project has eliminated delays due to appeals and litigation, and a combination of the 10-year guaranteed supply and grants to provide seed money for new forest industry businesses has helped to build the capacity of the wood products infrastructure in the region. Both of these have led to reduced per acre costs and more good work getting done on the ground. Stewardship contracts require that a multi-party monitoring group be created to monitor the not only the ecological, but the social and economic outcomes and impacts of the project. You can see a list of the participants and their yearly monitoring reports.

As the first and only such contract in existence in the United States, the process has not been without its challenges, and the Forest Service has done a good job of sharing their lessons learned with other forests and the general pubic through presentations and on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest website.  Here are few excerpted lessons that touch on the importance of collaboration, forest products industry, and economics:

  • Prior to committing to a long-term contract, you must determine that you have community support and acceptance for the treatments.  This may take collaboration and education for a year or more prior to advertising a contract to help ensure that appeals and negative reactions will not derail the project;
  • There needs to be a willingness on all fronts (Forest Service, industry, county and local government) to sit down with conservation organizations and discuss interests and concerns to help avoid crippling appeals, objections and litigation;
  • Do not let the markets or industry dictate the treatment goals unless there is no other way to pay for essential treatments.  Determine the long-term treatment goals and type of vegetation by-products generated and let that determine the suitable industry and products types;
  • A long-term contract may take up all the Forest Service funds available for treatments and it may mean that any industry not involved with the contract will not have wood products offered to them.  Also, if the contract spans more than one county, some communities and counties may get the jobs and mills and some may not.  This could be a social concern.
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