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Stewardship Contracts

The word “stewardship” implies that people involved in forestry should operate as caretakers, taking a holistic approach to human activities in forests, thus insuring that overall forest health is maintained. A “contract” is an agreement to undertake certain activities over a given period of time. The term “stewardship contracting” applies to a number of different practices and policies relating to forest management. Ecological restoration, economic utilization, wildlife management, and other activities all come together, in various configurations, under the guise of stewardship contracting.  

A stewardship contract assigns responsibility for a particular tract of forest land to a qualified organization or company. The motivations for undertaking stewardship contracts vary considerably. The issuing agency, often the U.S. Forest Service, seeks to streamline its procedures by combining different activities and services into a single contract, thus reducing bureaucracy and saving money. Recipients of contracts range from organizations devoted to forest preservation, to timber companies motivated by profit. Since stewardship contracts are multi-year agreements, long range planning and sustainable use is encouraged.

Some stewardship contracts are models of democratic community decision making processes. Others are simply business arrangements made between the Forest Service and timber companies with little community involvement. The details of stewardship contracts also vary greatly. Some contracts specify exact “treatments” and responsibilities that result in ecological restoration. Other contracts trade timber in payment for fire prevention treatments, such as thinning of small diameter trees and brush clearing, some with and some without reference to ecological restoration models.

The concepts of stewardship contracting appeal to a broad range of political interests, from loggers to preservationists. Successful contracts have helped diverse interests find common ground in local cooperative projects. As the term “stewardship contract” becomes part of public discourse, however, it also becomes politicized. For example, President Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative” couples stewardship contracts with the relaxation of environmental regulations in forests. This has led some environmental groups to reject stewardship contracting categorically.


Defenders of Wildlife. Stewardship Contracting. 3/29/03. This site describes stewardship contracts as practiced between the Forest Service and for-profit companies. Defenders of Wildlife criticizes how current contracts are implemented and offers  suggestions on how to make them work better.

Schildwachter, Greg. 1999. Stewardship End-Result Contracting. 3/28/03. Schildwachter’s special report, posted on the Intermountain Forest Association web site, describes the Forest Services testing of “Stewardship End-Result Contracts.” He is cautiously supportive of the planned test programs.

AgJournal. 2002. Contracting to conserve forests. 3/28/03. This simple introduction to stewardship contracting stresses the benefits of streamlining Forest Service contracts, improving local economies, and reducing fire danger.

Pinchot Institute for Conservation. What is Stewardship Contracting? 3/28/03. A positive view of stewardship contracting, emphasizing community participation in ecological restoration efforts. Stewardship contracting can be a “win – win” proposition for forest communities providing jobs and healthy forests.

Salant, Patricia. Headwaters News. 2002. Stewardship contracts bundle conservation with timber harvest. 3/28/03. News story portrays stewardship contracting in Montana as a cooperative effort between loggers and environmentalists. No mention is made of contrary views.

Soraghan, Mike.  Denver Post Washington Bureau. 2003. Congress rushing to pass forest-privatization.,1413,36%257E53%257E1173735%257E,00.html 15/13/03. News story outlines the political controversies surrounding stewardship contracting as defined by President Bush’s “Heritage Forests” plan.

Other resources

Associated Press. Record Searchlight Newspaper. 2003. Forest care falls to loggers in new law. 3/28/03. News story outlines the political controversies surrounding stewardship contracting as proposed in a Congressional spending plan in March of 2003.

Matthews, Mark. High Country News. 2000. Experiment takes cut out of logging. 3/28/03. News story portrays stewardship contracting in Montana as a cooperative effort between loggers and environmentalists while acknowledging that controversy still exists among many interested parties.

Martinez, George. U.S. Forest Service. 2002. Cooperative Forestry Program. stry 3/28/03. Brief descriptions of Forest Service stewardship programs.

American Lands Alliance. Stewardship Contracting Program Becomes Permanent. 2003. 3/28/03. Criticizes the Omnibus Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2003 which authorizes the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to issue stewardship contracts while by-passing certain environmental regulations.

Last edited June 25, 2003

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NAU's Program in Community, Culture and Environment Northern Arizona University