Westface Stewardship Project
Jeff Trejo, West Zone Timber Management Assistant
Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
When the pilot authority was first implemented in FY 1999, stewardship contracting caught the interest of the Wisdom District staff; they submitted the Westface Stewardship Project in the second wave of pilot projects (2001). The district had already completed NEPA analysis on a myriad of smaller projects, including a timber sale, a range allotment management project, and recreation infrastructure work. However, they had not been able to fund the service work through forest appropriations. Under the pilot stewardship authorities, the Forest began talking to the county commissioners and local stakeholders about combining some of these projects and using the goods for services authority.
Around the same time, Beaverhead County government formed a county economic development corporation. Both the County Commissioners and the local Forest employees met with staff from the FS Northern Rockies regional office to learn the ins and outs of stewardship contracting. The Westface project utilized both “best value acquisition” and “goods for services” stewardship authorities.
The County took a strong role in engaging the public to make this project work. County Commissioners came to public meetings and stood with the Forest Service employees, helping to create a spirit of cautious optimism in the community regarding the project and new contracting tool. The County also acted as an information sharing partner, drawing local residents into the public process. The public process also included creating the definition of “local” used in determining the best value contractor. Through an open process, the collaborators suggested a definition for “local” of 100 road miles from project site. The Forest Service adopted this definition for use in one of the evaluation criteria for determining best value.
The county economic development corporation was originally interested in bidding for the contract; however they ran into some logistical concerns and decided to take a different role. The majority of the potential primary contractors interested in the Westface Stewardship contract were traditional timber sale purchasers. These potential contractors were very concerned with bidding on the project, because they were not used to completing contracts that included such a wide range of service tasks, such as redesigning a campground. The county economic development corporation approached potential primary contractors and offered to work as their subcontracting broker. The economic development corporation would find, evaluate, and recommend local contractors to do the service tasks. The willingness of the economic development corporation to form an entrepreneurial relationship made potential contractors more comfortable with bidding on the stewardship contract.
The Westface Stewardship Project was awarded in 2001 and will be completed in 2005. Currently, 75% of the timber has gone to the mill and 75% of the service work is complete. From the Forest’s perspective the project has been a success and built relationships with the local community. Beginning collaboration with a completed NEPA process allowed the District to implement their first stewardship project quickly; but, it would have been helpful to gain more input in project design. The Forest has engaged in more up front collaboration in the design of their two recent stewardship projects, both focusing on hazardous fuels reduction.
Changes for the Next Stewardship Project
The District is currently implementing two new stewardship projects: the Grasshopper Fuels Reduction project and the Georgetown Lake Hazardous Fuel Reduction project. Both have involved local land owners, local fire departments, county and state governments, and other federal agencies, as well as members of the wood products industry and interested citizens.
The District has utilized a combination of methods to engage the public, including posted notices, targeted mailings, news releases and presentations at organizational meetings. Forest Service staff relied on community networks, such as home owners associations, fire response entities, and county governments, to engage interested parties. The primary attendees of meetings have been local land owners, representatives of local fire response entities and county and state government representatives. Collaborating with a broad range of interests has been fruitful, leading to overall agreement on project objectives. The Forest Service has provided the technical leadership for the environmental analysis while interested parties outside the Forest Service have provided review.
The present day Forest Service District Ranger depends upon the success of collaborative efforts. Collaboration has become an integral piece in the development of Allotment Management Plans, infrastructure improvement decisions, access and travel management, and forest plan revisions. However, working collaboratively remains a challenge, especially for some special interest organizations. Some of these organizations believe their principles and objectives should not be “compromised,” which, at times, limits the scope of collaboration.
For further information about our collaborative efforts, contact Jeff Trejo, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest at (406) 832-3178 ext. 217.