10-year contract would be awarded to one contractor
By Jennifer Jenks
Representatives of the Malheur National Forest held an informational meeting at the Harney County Senior and Community Services Center last week to discuss a proposed 10-year stewardship contract.
The purpose of the meeting was to disseminate information, as well as gather input, regarding the proposed contract, which was put forth in an effort to increase the volume of material available from the forest and possibly avoid a mill closure in Grant County.
Forest Supervisor Teresa Raaf explained that when it was announced that the last mill in Grant County would be shutting down, the Forest Service, their collaborative partners (Blue Mountain Forest Partners and Harney County Restoration) and others came together to try to increase restoration and output in the forest in order to ensure the sustainability of the local communities.
The group came up with the 10-year stewardship contract proposal. According to Raaf, the contract would be a long-term (10-year) contract to be awarded to one contractor. A stewardship contract, as opposed to a land sale, is designed to keep very little money from changing hands between the Forest Service and the contractor. In other words, the cost of required service-type restoration work activities would be approximately equal to the value of the products being removed. Any profit from the contract would go directly back into local restoration work. The contractor awarded the contract would have the first right of refusal on all timber contracts for those 10 years. If the contractor refused any contracts, those would be offered as standard timber sales.
The contract would grant $2.5 million per year to do work on the ground, if approved, Raaf stated, and anywhere from 20-80 percent of the future vegetation management (veg) program would be in this contract. In addition, the collaborative groups did an analysis and found that about three times more treatment on the ground was needed for a healthy forest in regards to insect infestation, disease and wildfire risk.
The contract would be broken in to subdivisions of 75-80 percent saw log material, with the rest being biomass of some type, Raaf said, which is similar to what their timber sales are. A large criteria for choosing a contractor will be the benefit to local communities. They hope to have the 55 MMBF contract awarded by July and have people working on it by August for the initial parent contract.
Harney County Judge Steve Grasty expressed concern for the local economies. “We have to have those mills in John Day, one or both,” he said, “because we don’t have any here.” Grant County’s forest-dependent economy could look like Harney County’s if they are not careful, he noted. “We’ve got to have opportunities for us here,” Grasty urged. “If it’s locked up in a single contract there could be trouble.”
Grasty also asked how optimistic the Forest Service was they would have the budget to continue this contract for the next 10 years. Raaf noted there were no bumps in the horizon for this year. They have been instructed to start hiring people to do NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) and other work having to do with this process, she said, and they were trying to budget more money into implementation and less into planning. For example, they are looking in to assessing more acres at a time. However, she noted the budget is the “elephant in the room.”
In response to a question about why there was one contract proposed instead of several smaller ones, Raaf said this was because they were told they needed infrastructure and the ability to sustain that infrastructure and needed to come up with a way to make that possible. They had to figure out how to maximize jobs and get restoration done, so, at this point, it is one contract, but that may change in the future.
Grant County Judge Scott Myers noted he was just as concerned with job retention as he was with new jobs. He said they were down 600 kids in School District 3 alone, which is $3 million per year in funding.
Malheur Lumber Company President Bruce Daucsavage expressed his support for the contract. “We have the opportunity in our communities (Grant and Harney) to get dollars to put people to work,” he said. “We ought to do that.”
He stated he had not always been a supporter of this collaborative effort, but that they would not be here today without it. The most important thing about this contract, he said, would be the certainty it would give.
Whoever gets the contract would have to put more investment into roads, industry and/or equipment, and no one company can do that all on their own, he stated. They would need to hire others and that would benefit the communities.
Gerard LaBrecque, of Joseph’s Juniper, asked if a mix of products would be offered, as he is interested in juniper contracts. “The juniper industry is strong,” LeBrecque said. “Instead of just burning it, offer it for sale.” He noted he could use 30,000 sticks a year and that was just him; there are other juniper mills in the area, as well.
Raaf noted that was something they could look into and that it was great to hear the interest. “It can be addressed in conversations with forest officials that there’s industry and a need for it, and it would benefit the forest,” she said. “I’m tickled to death to find out there are juniper producers here; I had no idea you existed.”
Harney County rancher Jack Smith offered his opinion on forest management. “I’m a rancher here, been here for 75 years,” he said. “If I ran my ranch the way the Forest Service runs the forest, I’d be out of business in four years.” He noted he did not understand why they let the old trees just sit there and die, when there were young trees coming in to replace them. That would be like him cutting the 2 and 3-year-olds out of his herd every year. “I’d have a bunch of old cows left not worth anything,” he explained. “The Forest Service is going plumb backwards.”
On another note, Smith said the juniper removal program has worked great for him. Getting rid of the juniper on his ranch took five or six years, he said, but now the vegetation and wildlife are coming back. “I think they should get rid of all the juniper on the forest.”
The Forest Service is now taking written input on criteria to use in the awarding of the contract, as well as the amount of timber and veg program to put in to it. “This is an issue that affects all of you,” Raaf said, “and I’d like to hear from as many of you as possible by the end of February.” There will be more meetings after collecting the input and then the contract will be awarded.
Grasty thanked Raaf for holding a meeting in Harney County, and Raaf thanked him in return for insisting they come. “There are two counties involved,” Raaf said, “and we need to remember that.”
Public comments can be submitted online at: www.fs.usda.gov/malheur
or mailed to Malheur National Forest, Attention: Teresa Raaf, 431 Patterson Bridge Rd., John Day, OR 97845. For more information, contact Pattie Hammett, public affairs officer, or Mike Stearly, public affairs specialist, at 541-575-3000