Stewardship Contracts Idle While Forests Burn

Jul 18, 2002

Goodlatte decries unreasonable delays blocking restoration contracts, and ponders their future

July 18, 2002 – Forestry Subcommittee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) again pushed for reasoned approach to fulfill stewardship contracts that will clear away years of dead underbrush now fueling wildfires throughout the nation's forest lands. Goodlatte called on environmental advocates testifying before his subcommittee on Thursday to acknowledge the value of these independently-monitored stewardship contracts and that there are reporting safeguards that ensure forest health is protected and restored.

"Unfortunately, the real perverse incentive is to maintain the status quo, point the finger and watch disastrous wildfires burn," said Goodlatte. "There are groups that claim the catastrophic wildfires are natural and that we should just let them run their course. Fires like this are not a natural part of our ecosystem. They are not cleansing nor beneficial to the forest, they are dangerous and destructive. These fires leave behind bare mineral soil, dead trees and vegetation, hot running streams and rivers, and the threat of more devastation from massive mudslides. This is not how we take care of our forests and it is certainly not nature taking its course. This is anything but natural. We must actively work to prevent these types of fires from occurring. The campaign to keep people out of the forest with a hands-off philosophy is dangerous to the very existence of our forests. Our forests deserve better."

"If we want to protect our firefighters, our communities and our forests, we must work to create healthy, sustainable ecosystems through good stewardship. Teddy Roosevelt once said, 'We must conserve the forests, not by disuse but by use, making them more valuable at the same time that we use them.' Stewardship contracting is just one tool in a multitude that the Forest Service can utilize in carrying out conservation methods."

Stewardship contracting benefits both the forest agency and the public. For the Forest Service, stewardship contracts provide a means to improve contracting flexibility and efficiency, to address forest health concerns in areas of low-value material, and to increase collaboration among federal agencies and outside partners. The Agency is permitted to include more than one activity in a contract, potentially improving contracting efficiency. Also, by contracting to one entity for multiple activities, the number of entries into areas is minimized.

Within the surrounding local communities, stewardship contracts are capable of promoting local involvement in National Forest management, while also strengthening local economies through the diversification of available jobs and the development of new and expanded markets.

From an ecological perspective, stewardship contracts provide a means of improving forest health, forest composition and structure, wildlife habitat and forage, and water quality. Also, these contracts can be used to conduct thinning and hazardous fuels reduction activities to reduce the threat of wildfire. For example, at least 20 of the 37 implemented projects either plan to or have already completed some type of fuels management activities such as thinning, prescribed fire, or fuels reduction. Within these 20 projects over 4,000 acres have already been treated with more than 20,000 tons of hazardous fuels removed. Among all the projects as of November of 2001, (those completed, those in a stage of implementation, or those recently listed) at least 50 percent have stated reducing wildfire risk as a goal of the project.

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