Stewardship Contracting

What Is Stewardship Contracting?

Stewardship contracting includes natural resource management practices seeking to promote a closer working relationship with local communities in a broad range of activities that improve land conditions. These projects shift the focus of federal forest and rangeland management towards a desired future resource condition.  They are also a means for federal agencies to contribute to the development of sustainable rural communities, restore and maintain healthy forest ecosystems, and provide a continuing source of local income and employment.   It focuses on the “end result” ecosystem benefits and outcomes, rather than on what’s removed from the land.  Under Section 323 of Public Law 108-7, the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Land Management have been granted authority, until September 30, 2013, to enter into stewardship contracting projects for up to 10 years in length.

Key Stewardship Goals Include:
• Improve, maintain, and restore forest and rangeland health
• Restore/maintain water quality
• Improve fish/wildlife habitat
• Re-establish native plant species and increase their resilience
• Reduce hazardous fuel

(SOURCES: US Forest Service – Stewardship Brochure and USDA/US Forest Service Website)

Successful Stewardship Contracts

Disease Control

Controlling Oak Wilt  – Harvesting infected trees and all other oak trees within a certain radial distance from diseased trees, uprooting selected stumps of harvested trees to prevent the spread of the disease to healthy trees and to do both as close to the same time as possible. How did this work get done? The traditional Forest Service timber sale contract would cover the timber harvesting but it did not contain provisions for the service work of uprooting stumps.  Stewardship Contracting provided the avenue to accomplish both the timber harvesting (the contractor pays the government for the trees to be harvested) and the uprooting of the stumps (the government pays the contractor for the service of uprooting the stumps) at the same time.  What the government owes the contractor for the service work is simply subtracted from what the contractor owes the government for the timber harvested. These excess timber receipts can be retained by the Forest to do other approved service work designed to improve and restore the overall ecological health of the forest.


Working Forest Trail – Stewardship contracting – goods for services – was tested in the construction of the Discovery Trail.  With authority from Congress for trials across the country, the Forest Service selected several projects including the Discovery Trail. A local construction company performed small logging operations and removed trees it could sell in exchange for creating trails, a trailhead, and a parking area that would become part of the interpretive trail system.  Stewardship didn’t stop with the completion of construction. The Forest Service established a local team of citizens and organizations to provide for the long-term stewardship of the “educational experience” at the Discovery Trail, including assisting with the
development of a set of educational activities including things to do on the “kids trail,” interpretive signs, and other lasting improvements.  The Discovery Trail is proof that stewardship contracting can benefit local contractors, the Forest Service, and stakeholders of the national forests. It also demonstrates that through “hands-on discovery” at national forest  sites, urban visitors to the Northwoods can better understand the role of working forests.

Fuel Reduction Combined with Infrastructure Establishment

Treasure Interface Stewardship Project – Stewardship contracting project involving fuel reduction, prescribed fire, habitat improvement, and the maintenance and restoration of ecosystems on the Libby Ranger District, Kootenai National Forest, Montana.  Cross-country ski area bathroom, rest and picnic area shelter built.

Landscape Restoration, Wildfire Control and Recreation Opportunities

Mt. Hood –  Working with private citizens, private landowners and over 30 organizations and agencies representing the environmental community, timber interests, recreation enthusiasts and county, state and federal government to award 16 stewardship contracts.  These resulted in 3700 acres of commercial thinning and fuels reduction and generated $4.1 million forest restoration projects including fuels reduction, fish passage culvert replacement, fuel reduction within public and adjacent private land, pre-commercial thinning, road storm proofing and decommissioning, OHV damage repair and side channel habitat creation.  Benefits of the program include: creation of more jobs by trading goods (timber value) for services (restoration work), support from key stakeholders for forest management and accomplishment of important restoration work.

Additional Resources

Everything You Wanted to Know About Stewardship Contracting

Results and Success Stories

Training Resources

EXAMPLE: Report on the First Five Years on the White Mountain Stewardship Project

Pinchot Institute – Case Studies 2014-2016

The Role of Communities in Stewardship Contracting – Pinchot Institute Report to USFS 2016

Empowering Collaborative Stewardship

Stewardship Contracting Video