WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) cosponsored S. 326, the Stewardship End Result Contracting Improvement Act, to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. The bill would make it easier for federal land managers and businesses to partner on long-term, large-scale forest treatment.
"Stewardship contracting is one of the most versatile and powerful tools we have to achieve healthier and more fire resistant forests. And like many good tools, it needs to maintained and sharpened from time to time. That's what this legislation will do, take a trusted tool and make it even more effective," said Sen. Heinrich.
Senator Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has been a leading advocate of catastrophic wildfire prevention programs in New Mexico, including hazardous fuel reduction, stewardship contracting, and watershed restoration. He worked collaboratively to secure permanent authorization of stewardship contracting in the Farm Bill, which was signed into law on February 7, 2014.
In April 2014, Senators Heinrich and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) toured the Apache-Sitgreaves and Gila National Forests along the Arizona-New Mexico state border to discuss forest restoration and related treatment, conservation, and protecting our communities from wildfire. The senators visited K & B Timberworks in Reserve, New Mexico, to discuss hazard tree removal and collaborate forest restoration programs.
Last year, Senator Heinrich also toured Mount Taylor Manufacturing, a family-owned business in Milan, New Mexico, that makes products from trees selectively harvested from the Cibola National Forest.
Stewardship contracting allows the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to treat forests, reduce fuels, and protect communities by combining land-management objectives, such as forest thinning, with the exchange of goods, such as forest products. There are more than 600 active stewardship projects across the country, but improvements in the program would facilitate long-term large projects.
S. 326, introduced by U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), would allow agencies to set aside cancellation-ceiling funds in stages that are economically or programmatically viable. The bill would also require that any excess stewardship payments first be used to satisfy outstanding cancellation-ceiling liabilities. The Department of Defense similarly uses multiyear cancellation-ceiling flexibility to enter into large contracts without immediately setting aside the full amount.
A cancellation ceiling is the maximum amount of money an agency would be required to pay to a contractor in the event the government cancels a contract. In general, an agency must set aside the full amount when it signs the contract. A 2008 GAO report found that this requirement serves as an impediment to long-term landscape-level stewardship contracts - precisely the type of contracts that are most effective at reducing wildfire threats.
Full text of the bill is available here.