Stewardship Contracting Helping Control Silent Killer

Controlling Oak Wilt through Stewardship Contracting

By: Cathy Fox, Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest
Eastern Region
September 19, 2006

Picture looking upward into the canopy of a forest with oak trees demonstrating signs of oak wilt.
An example of oak wilt infestation.

Why were a few red oak trees in the Boulder Lake Campground on the Lakewood-Laona Ranger District losing their leaves in July and not waiting until Fall? When this happened in 1997, it was the first time symptoms of the Oak Wilt disease had appeared on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Oak Wilt likely moved up from southern Wisconsin where it had been present for many years. It is a fungal disease fatal to oaks in the red oak group and spreads primarily in a radial fashion through root grafts between infected and healthy trees.

By 2001, other Oak Wilt infection spots ranging from one to several trees were discovered. The disease was certain to kill thousands of red oak trees in the Lakewood area if not brought under control. Oak is an important tree for wildlife and its wood is highly valued.

Public meetings were held with local groups, governments and tribal entities to explain the problem. Everyone agreed something needed to be done. But what could be done to control this silent killer that was slowly but surely creating an unhealthy forest condition?

Insect and disease specialist from Northeast State and Private Forestry out of St. Paul, Minnesota, came to investigate and provide advice. They recommended harvesting infected trees and all other oak trees within a certain radial distance, uprooting selected stumps of harvested trees to prevent the spread of the disease to healthy trees and to do both as close to the same time as possible.

How did this work get done? The traditional Forest Service timber sale contract would cover the timber harvesting but it did not contain provisions for the service work of uprooting stumps.

Stewardship Contracting provided the avenue to accomplish both the timber harvesting (the contractor pays the government for the trees to be harvested) and the uprooting of the stumps (the government pays the contractor for the service of uprooting the stumps) at the same time.

What the government owes the contractor for the service work is simply subtracted from what the contractor owes the government for the timber harvested. These excess timber receipts can be retained by the Forest to do other approved service work designed to improve and restore the overall ecological health of the forest.

The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest will continue to use Stewardship Contracting to control Oak Wilt and will actively pursue using it in other appropriate situations.

This is another example of the Eastern Region’s commitment to revolutionizing effectiveness and efficiency in its business practices.