JOHN DAY – The Malheur National Forest will put 70-80 percent of the annual harvest volume into its new 10-year stewardship timber contract, due to be awarded in August.
Forest Supervisor Teresa Raaf announced her decision on the volume Monday, saying it came after careful consideration.
“This amount will guarantee the awardee of the contract a consistent, sustainable amount of volume, which will also offer benefits to local communities by providing a stable economic environment that would support local businesses in Grant and Harney counties,” she said.
The decision comes as the Forest Service presses ahead with more than doubling the harvest on the Malheur. The Forest expects to offer 55 million board feet this year and ramp up to 75 million board feet a year by 2015. The harvest has been just 26 million to 30 million board feet a year over the past couple of years.
The increase and the new stewardship contract are part of an effort by the Forest Service to speed up forest health work, put people to work in the local communities, and also prevent the shutdown of the local timber industry, acknowledged as a critical need for restoration.
Officials are working on defining the criteria for the contract award, which will consider both technical qualifications and community benefits.
Raaf said the aim of the 10-year contract length is to add predictability to the local economy and job picture, while getting needed restoration of the forest. Raaf said the agency defines “local” as the Malheur National Forest and its two counties, Grant and Harney.
Stewardship contracting allows the agency to funnel timber sale revenue that normally goes back to the Treasury into forest restoration. Stewardship authority also gives the agency the ability to treat larger areas of the forest.
The projects will include a mix of saw timber harvest, restoration work and and other improvements on a large landscape scale.
The agency’s timeline includes:
• Mid-June – A technical proposal workshop will identify criteria and help prospective bidders with the process.
• Late July – Officials will evaluate the proposals.
• Mid-August – The contract will be awarded.
• Mid-September – The restoration work begins.
At meetings in January, industry officials were concerned that only one company could win the contract, and that the volume might not keep one mill alive, let alone revive the ones that shut down in recent years.
Officials noted, however, that the overall harvest increase – more than double in one year – is an unprecedented opportunity. This week, Raaf stressed that success of the stewardship program will hinge on making the contract pencil out over time, for both the contractor and the health of the forest.
With the percentage decided, she is hoping the industry focus will shift to preparing their proposals and weighing the ways they might participate in the process.
The proposals will be evaluated by a panel with expertise in timber, contracting, and other specialties – drawn from both the region and the local level.
The company that gains the contract in essence has right of first refusal on the offerings. Projects not taken by the contractor will be revised for sale as a regular timber sale or restoration project outside the stewardship program.
Officials also expect the stewardship contract to have ripple effects, generating related work in logging, roadwork, fencing, riparian and range improvements, and other areas.
“There will be a benefit to these communities – There will be an economic benefit and an ecological benefit,” she said.
Raaf notified local officials of her decision Monday morning and also met with her staff to talk about the plans and the many details that still need to be worked out.
“What we’re looking at here is a whole new way of doing business,” she said.
She and Deputy Supervisor Steve Beverlin noted that the Malheur is leading the way nationally in this type of restoration.
“Restoration on a forest-wide scale has not happened elsewhere,” Beverlin said, adding that the accompanying increase in harvest also is unprecedented.
Raaf said the Malheur’s collaborative partners have positioned the forest for such change.
“This community should be very proud that they have helped to move this along,” she said.
She also commended the forest staff for their efforts to move the program ahead, and credited the support of Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Kent Connaughton, who reinforced his view this week.
“I am committed to increasing the amount of restoration work on the Malheur Forest,” Connaughton said. “A clear benefit to the communities and economy of eastern Oregon will be an increased, sustainable supply of timber.”Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.