Imagine a law that encourages the Federal government to partner with local businesses? A law that would create a partnership to do things such as restoring our forests, improving fish and wildlife habitat, removing noxious weeds, and creating healthy rivers. On top of these benefits to the environment, this law also improves the economies of rural communities. Sound too good to be true? Think again. With the adoption of stewardship contracting authority (Public Law 108-7) in 2003, BLM has been able to offset forest product values against service costs, select “best value” contracts and award 10-year agreements with communities. Stewardship contracts may be used to improve, maintain or restore forests, rangelands, water quality and habitat. They can also be used to reduce hazardous fuels that pose risks. Since its inception, BLM has issued over 170 awards, covering over 51,000 acres. Simply said, these contracts are a legal agreement to be “stewards” on Federally-managed lands. In real life this translates to a variety of projects from removing encroaching juniper trees and grinding them up to be used in a variety of ways, to restore native grasslands by cutting small conifers and selling them as Christmas trees, to thinning stands to increase forest health.
In the Lakeview District, stewardship contracting has allowed for maximum biomass utilization of forest and woodland products. Trees cut from the projects have been used for fuelwood, “hog fuel” chips burned to make renewable electricity, clean chips that are ground up and used to make hardboard and an array of juniper products like post and poles.
Thousands of tons of BLM-sourced juniper has supplied the local Juniper Mill at REACH in Klamath Falls thanks to the Gerber Stewardship Contract. This contract has allowed for over 6,000 acres of forests and woodlands to be restored through treatments under this project. This unique mill is a non-profit organization that specializes creative utilization of juniper, finding uses for nearly all parts of the tree. On top of that, the REACH mill is an active participant in vocational-rehabilitation programs that focus on employing individuals with disabilities.
Thanks to the Gerber Stewardship, juniper byproducts that would have been previously burned can be used to foster community partnerships and stimulate the local economy. The Medford District is also creatively implementing stewardship contracts to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems. Last year, the district awarded the Landing Pile Biomass Utilization Contract, an interagency contract in support of the Southwest Oregon Interagency biomass strategy. This contract allows landing piles from the BLM’s Medford District to be used locally rather than being burned. As a result, the contract reduces open burning, improves air quality,and also stimulates local woody biomass markets—a good deal for everyone involved. Stewardship contracting provides the BLM with the authority to implement landscape scale treatments that meet local and community needs. These contracts can include such activities as hazardous fuels reduction, fish and wildlife habitat improvements, forest health treatments, removal of noxious weeds, and stream restoration, to name a few.