Bolstering a long-term strategy to address fuel reduction and overall forest health, USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman today announced two Forest Service 10-year stewardship contracts totaling $13.4 million.
The two contracts identify projects that will treat a minimum of 20,000 acres in two national forests.
“Today’s announcement supports our commitment to accelerate restoration of our national forests and to generate and sustain jobs in rural America,” said Sherman. “Not only will these contracts help us alleviate the impacts of the mountain pine beetle infestation and reduce the threats of catastrophic wildfire, but they also will offer a supply of woody biomass that will be used to produce low-cost heat and a clean, renewable source of electricity.”
The stewardship contracts are focused on improving the health of subalpine and mountain forests affected by mountain pine beetle on portions of the Medicine Bow-Routt and the White River national forests in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado. The stewardship contracts announced today add to the $100 million the Forest Service directed toward addressing bark beetle infestations in the Rocky Mountain Region since 2010.
The Medicine Bow-Routt Long Term Stewardship Contract was awarded to Confluence Energy of Kremmling, Colo. Confluence Energy’s bid of $4.75 million was awarded based on price and on the company’s technical ability to accomplish forest health projects. Confluence Energy will remove beetle-killed trees and pile or scatter the residual debris that has no commercial value. In areas where the trees have commercial value for wood products such as dimension lumber, wood pellets and other biomass products, Confluence Energy will pay for that material to offset the cost to the government of the other forest health treatments in the contract area.
“The Confluence Energy team is excited and looks forward to working with the Forest Service to manage the Medicine Bow-Routt project,” said Betty Straub of Confluence Energy. “We are confident in our ability to utilize the unwanted material for clean energy and high value purposes.”
“We are pleased to add Confluence Energy to the diverse mix of forest product partners who will continue to help in our forest restoration efforts,” said Medicine Bow-Routt Forest Supervisor Phil Cruz.
West Range Reclamation of Hotchkiss, Colo., submitted a winning bid for the White River Long Term Stewardship Contract. West Range Reclamation’s bid of $8.66 million was accepted by the Forest Service based on the company’s ability to meet technical requirements and per-acre price. The contract focuses on the removal of tree species susceptible to insect and disease infestations, including lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, aspen and ponderosa pine.
West Range has partnered with Eagle Valley Clean Energy to develop an environmentally sound use for the dead and small-diameter trees – known as woody biomass – that will be removed during fuels reduction and forest health treatments. Eagle Valley Clean Energy is currently planning an 11.5 megawatt woody biomass-fueled power plant in Gypsum, Colo. The electricity generated from the plant will be supplied to Holy Cross Energy, servicing 8,000 to 10,000 homes in Colorado from Parachute to Vail and Glenwood Springs to Aspen. Heat from the plant will also support an adjacent wallboard manufacturing facility. In October, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service announced a $40 million loan guarantee to help finance the plant.
“The continued stability of the 10-year project will allow West Range to provide well-paying, steady, year-round work for our current employees and the ability to hire more skilled operators,” said Pam Motley of West Range Reclamation. “We also intend to do our part to help strengthen local economies by purchasing products and services such as fuel, food, housing, tools, parts, supplies, rentals and repair services from local businesses.”
Eagle Valley Clean Energy estimates that the woody biomass electricity plant will further support 41 permanent jobs and 107 construction jobs for the region.
“This contract realizes an opportunity for us to achieve critical landscape restoration on the White River National Forest,” said White River Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams. “It also continues our legacy of sustainable use of wood products from saw logs to biomass for renewable energy.”
The Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service developed a strategy to address the increasing threats to health and safety from the millions of acres with dead trees due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the emerging spruce beetle epidemic. The strategy focuses on prioritizing hazardous tree removal, working with partners to reduce risks to infrastructure such as power lines, residences and ski areas and providing up-to-date public information as those activities move forward.
Since the mountain pine beetle epidemic began in the late 1990s, more than 1.7 million acres of lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine forests on the Medicine Bow-Routt and White River National Forests have been affected. Estimates are that on average approximately 70 to 80 percent of the mature trees have been killed to date. As the dead trees fall, experts predict an increase in wildfire severity which would result in a degradation of our watersheds and in turn negatively affect municipal water quality and other national forest resources.
For the stewardship contracts announced today, the Forest Service issued a request for proposal in Federal Business Opportunities on May 20, 2012, then held field visits for potential bidders to show the types of areas identified in the request for proposals and to explain the work required. The Forest Service evaluated proposals using “Best Value” criteria which assess price and technical ability to accomplish forest health work.
Stewardship contracting allows the Forest Service to apply the value of timber or other forest products removed from national forests as an offset against the cost of non-income generating treatments such as thinning or hazardous fuel removal. Learn more about stewardship contracting at the Forest Service restoration website.