Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Gov. Bill Ritter has asked the federal government to free up millions of dollars to help fight the pine beetle epidemic, prevent wildfires and pay for other healthy-forest initiatives in Colorado.
The request comes in the form of a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer, asking the department to award up to three long-term, 10-year forest-restoration contracts to private vendors in Colorado.
The department currently awards only short-term stewardship contracts, but Colorado's new Forest Health Advisory Council says vendors require the stability of longer-term contracts.
The Governor's letter follows passage of Senate Joint Resolution 08-010, sponsored by Sen. Dan Gibbs and Rep. Christine Scanlan, which requests that the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Colorado State Forest Service work together to identify and implement up to three long-term stewardship contracts.
"A broad spectrum of stakeholders agrees that long-term stewardship contracts are an effective tool for bridging the gap between collaboratively identified forest management priorities and the lack of resources and/or industry to accomplish them," Gov. Ritter said. "This is an example of how we can maximize funds to keep our forests healthy and protect our communities."
Here is the complete text of the Governor's letter:
September 11, 2008
Secretary Ed Schafer
U.S. Department of Agriculture 
1400 Independence Ave., S.W. 
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Schafer:
At the recommendation of Colorado's new Forest Health Advisory Council, I am writing to request your assistance in facilitating the implementation of long term stewardship contracts in national forests in Colorado.  Despite broad and diverse support in the state, we have not been able to make use of this tool due to the Federal Acquisition Regulation requirement (FAR 17.104) that specifies that the United States Forest Service (USFS) must fund cancellation ceiling amounts for a multi-year stewardship contract at the time the contract is approved, thus tying up potentially millions of appropriated dollars that could be used to treat acres on the ground. 
The Colorado Bark Beetle Cooperative, the Front Range Roundtable, and other forest-based collaborative groups have collectively identified several million acres of forestland in Colorado that need treatment to restore forest health and/or protect communities and watersheds from fire. 
With current treatment costs ranging from $400 to $1,000 per acre, we are unable to accomplish this work in a reasonable time frame using existing resources.  We must find a way to reduce these costs.
One way to reduce management costs is to engage the forest industry in accomplishing the needed treatments.  Unfortunately, much of the woody material removed during forest treatments in Colorado is small in size, does not fit traditional forest product markets, or is otherwise unmerchantable.  In addition, much of the state's locally based forest products industry is gone, meaning new investments in harvesting and processing capacity, as well as new markets for non-traditional materials, will be needed to address the forest management workload.
It is difficult for small contractors or companies to invest in the type of industry needed in the state unless they can acquire loans for business start-up, equipment purchases, and other business expansion efforts; and lenders are often reluctant to provide such loans unless a long-term supply of wood is clearly available.
A broad spectrum of stakeholders agrees that long-term (e.g. 10 years) stewardship contracts are an effective tool for bridging the gap between collaboratively identified forest management priorities and the lack of resources and/or industry to accomplish them.  Section 323 of Public Law 108-7 allows the USFS or the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to design multi-year forest restoration and wildfire risk mitigation plans that offer local forest contractors a sustained supply of work and/or material with which they can secure the necessary collateral and resources needed to sustain or improve their businesses.
Land managers have been working for more than three years to develop a multi-year stewardship contract for Colorado's Front Range.  During their 2007 and 2008 sessions, the Colorado General Assembly joined this effort by passing resolutions asking the USFS Regional Forester for the Rocky Mountain Region and the BLM State Director to collaborate with the Colorado State Forester in implementing up to three long-term stewardship contracts in Colorado.  This initiative has been stymied by the prohibitive requirements in the Federal Acquisition Regulations described above.
After trying unsuccessfully to obtain either administrative or legislative relief to these requirements, we are appealing for your assistance in finding a resolution that will enable us to move forward with long-term stewardship contracts in Colorado.
I understand that you were able to visit the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest where long-term stewardship contracting is being successfully implemented in the White Mountains of Arizona.  This project is a singular, yet extraordinarily successful example of how a multi-year contract can bring together forest industry and diverse stakeholders to collaboratively accomplish priority forest treatments.  We would like to see similar success in Colorado.
I look forward to hearing from your office regarding how you will help us address this barrier to long-term stewardship contracting inColorado and achieve our mutual interests in restoring forests and protecting communities and watersheds. 
Bill Ritter, Jr.