Case in Point: The A-Bar-S Stewardship-Contracting Project
The A-Bar-S stewardship-contracting project being designed during 2004 on the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest is the largest stewardship contracting effort to date. Once established, it will involve harvesting materials 5-9 inches in diameter from 150,000 acres of national forest. Forest Service efforts to design the project to fits the needs and objectives of potential bidders, as well as meet its own goals, have been described as somewhat complex. The agency has revised the contract text in response to feedback from potential contractors. Some of the difficulty has been described as lack of understanding among both the Forest Service and private industry of each other’s needs, which entail a range of concerns, including: scale, bonding, and achieving multi-party understanding of stewardship principles. The scale issue has advocates for both large- and small-scale harvesting, depending on the level of interest of individuals involved in a given locality and their ability to organize a project.
That ability is constrained by infrastructure, presence of industry, willingness and preparedness of the Forest Service and local industry, to name a few things. For example, Louisiana Pacific was considering a bid for the A-Bar-S contract, but reportedly has said that 150,000 acres was not enough to support one of its strand-board plants.
As of spring 2004, the Forest Service was requiring a bonding of contractors that few, or none, are capable of, or interested in, supporting. “Retention” has been suggested as an alternative, rather than bonding, which places the burden on the contractor. Retention would allow the Forest Service to retain 10% of contractor payments for liability protection.
“It’s a learning process,” said Ray Wrobley, with SEC, Inc. in Sedona, AZ. “There’s no question the world is changing. It’s exciting that we are beginning to see things change.”
The requirement of long-term commitment and to the demand for multiple areas of expertise makes stewardship contracting challenging in the minds of many private industry people. Most contractors are single-area experts, highly specialized, and are reluctant to take on responsibility for stewardship activities for which they have little or no experience, and when most of the liability falls on them. Pilots have never received bids because of this.
“You need to be sort of a ‘general contractor’ to capitalize on stewardship contracting,” Wrobley said, echoing others. “People need to see someone go out and take the chance first. If he is successful, or even if he isn’t, they might see where it can go and someone might try it themselves.”