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Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

White Mountain Stewardship Project


Meadow on White Mountain. Photo provided by The Nature Conservancy

The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest encompasses over two million acres of magnificent mountain country in east-central Arizona.  Due to decades of management decisions, which include suppressing fire, harvesting old-growth trees, building high-country communities and allowing livestock to overgraze, the forest is overgrown and is at great risk for wildfires. 

In August 2004, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests implemented the country’s first ten-year stewardship contract.  With this contract, the White Mountain Stewardship Project began as an experiment in collaboration with forest stakeholders ranging from businesses, conservation interests, county, state, and local governments, other interested individuals, and community members.  The White Mountain Stewardship Project’s goals were to reduce the impact of wildfires, improve wildlife habitat, and restore forest health, while helping the local rural communities stimulate employment in the wood projects industry.  The contract guarantees wood for its duration to generate private business investments in wood product industries.  Currently, 35,166 acres have been treated and an additional 14,553 acres are in progress.  The exposure of the White Mountain Stewardship Project across the country has helped generate an atmosphere in which landscape-scale forest restoration projects can occur, such as the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.

The Four Forests Restoration Initiative is an agreement with federal and state agencies, conservation groups, and private businesses to thin and restore one million acres in four national forests in the Arizona over the next 20 to 30 years.  A company called Forest Energy Corporation helped solve the funding issue of the forest-restoration project.  Forest Energy takes the chipped trees harvested from the White Mountain project and manufactures pellets for wood-burning stoves.  The corporation works with WB Contracting, under a stewardship contract.  The contact is an agreement with the Forest Service that spreads the work and cost of thinning the woods.  The Forest Service pays the contractors a fee to cut and chip the trees and the contractors cover the rest of their costs.  Without the industry on board, Forest Service could never afford to thin the forests.   Forest Energy isn’t the only beneficiary of the White Mountain Stewardship Project.  Other area businesses use the wood to create pallets, custom beams, post and poles, and biomass material.  The project has jump started the local economy by creating around 300 jobs.  A report on the first five years of the project was conducted by The Nature Conservancy in August 2010.  The report reveals that this public-private partnership has helped add value to small-diameter wood products, increase employment opportunities in rural communities, and boost local economies. 

Additional information:

The First Five Years of the White Mountain Stewardship Project: Executive Summary. The Nature Conservancy.

Sue Sitko
Northern Arizona Conservation Manager
The Nature Conservancy
(928) 368-6832