The newly formed Hood River Collaborative Stewardship Group will hold its first meeting later this month, and organizers are looking for community involvement.
The group, formed in response to a recent U.S. Forest Service presentation at a Hood River Watershed Group meeting, will convene on a monthly basis to discuss forest health issues and develop project recommendations for stewardship contracting in the Hood River watershed.
Stewardship contracting allows USFS and local groups to work together to achieve land management goals. Specifically, it's a way for the USFS to initiate timber harvest projects while keeping the financial returns local, and restoration-based.
"With the USFS Title II funding program ending this year, people in the Hood River valley will need to find ways to continue funding projects that benefit watershed health, create jobs and support communities," noted Steve Stampfli, Hood River Watershed Group coordinator. "Stewardship contracting is a tool that Congress has provided the Forest Service to help accomplish that.
"Stewardship contracting will allow the Forest Service to collaborate with the public in planning project work, utilize local contractors for doing watershed restoration, and provide for the exchange of goods like timber for services that enhance the forest."
Although enacted as a 10-year program in 2003, stewardship contracting hasn't been utilized in the Hood River valley. The program has been successful in surrounding districts and around the Northwest, where revenue from timber projects has been used for nearby conservation work that would have otherwise not had the funding.
A local example might be a project on Red Hill, where areas are in need of thinning for forest health and fire prevention. A stewardship contract through the Forest Service and the local collaborative stewardship group could be a timber harvest in a particularly over-stocked area, contracted locally; with profits from the timber sale going toward a stewardship project like rebuilding a culvert or restoring riparian area around a stream to improve fish habitat and prevent erosion.
"It provides an opportunity to fund needed forest and watershed restoration work," said Anne Saxby, Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District manager. Saxby will organize the new stewardship group as it gets started.
"Stewardship contracts are awarded on the best value approach, not the highest bidder, so consideration can be given to past performance and the use of local work force, among other criteria. This can benefit the local economy as well as watershed health."