Stewardship Contracting

Posted: Aug 31, 2010

Stewardship End Result Contracting (stewardship contracting) is a relatively new tool that Congress gave to the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for managing and restoring federal lands. With stewardship contracting, the agency can more completely address the total ecological needs of an area by using timber sale contracts, service contracts, agreements, and new integrated resource contracts—or any combination thereof. The agency can describe the "end result" it wants to achieve in a certain area and its contractor can then develop and implement a mutually agreed-upon plan to achieve that goal. Stewardship contracting also allows the agency to enter into multi-year contracts and to use the value of any products removed and sold as a by-product of the restoration or maintenance work to offset some or all of the costs of the work. Finally, with stewardship contracting, the agency can work with the local community to design and implement the contract, and in the process, build community capacity and bring jobs and income into the local community.

Key Concepts

Stewardship Demonstration (Pilot) Projects

While the idea of stewardship contracting emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, stewardship contracting officially started when Congress passed legislation in 1998 that allowed the U.S. Forest Service to create 28 stewardship contracting demonstration projects, often called "pilot projects." Congress later increased the number to 56, and then 84, but the pilot program was intended to be a short-term, experimental program. All of the contracts for the demonstration projects had to be let by 2004. 

The pilot projects were intended to test whether several new contracting authorities would help the Forest Service do its work better and more efficiently. In the pilot projects, the Forest Service could bundle together, in one contract, a number of different activities designed to restore or maintain ecosystem health. Projects included watershed restoration, removing roads to decrease sedimentation into streams, reducing fire risk by thinning forests, improving wildlife habitat, and reducing noxious weeds. In the pilot projects, the Forest Service combined some of their standard contracting methods (timber and service contracts) with some new authorities (e.g., exchange of goods for services, receipt retention, and best-value contracting) to do the work. In addition to testing whether the new authorities were useful, the pilot projects were supposed to test whether communities would benefit from use of the new authorities. Advocates of stewardship contracting expected that communities would participate in designing and monitoring stewardship projects, and that local contractors would do much of the work. Each pilot project had to be monitored and evaluated by a multi-party monitoring team, and the results reported annually to Congress. 

Semi-Permanent Stewardship Contracting Authority

In February 2003, Congress significantly expanded stewardship contracting. In that legislation, Congress changed stewardship contracting from a limited, U.S. Forest Service demonstration project to a semi-permanent authority that can be used by both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in their day-to-day work. That legislation allows the agencies to enter into an unlimited number of stewardship contracts over the next 10 years. The new law explicitly allows the agencies to use stewardship contracts to achieve a broad range of land management goals for the national forests and the public lands that meet local and rural community needs. Projects can include the removal and sale of timber or other commercially valuable products, so long as the collection of money is secondary to achieving the land management objectives. The law requires agencies to use multi-party monitoring to evaluate projects, but the monitoring does not have to evaluate each project. 

For a map and brief description of current stewardship contracts, click here. 

Agency Guidance for Implementing Stewardship Contracting

  The 2003 legislation changed stewardship contracting from a limited, demonstration program into a semi-permanent authority, but the way that it is implemented in the long run could depend a great deal on the agencies' guidelines. Agencies cannot generally be forced to follow their own guidelines, but the guidelines set the tone for how the law will be implemented in the field. 


Download a copy of the A Basic Guide for Restoration Practitioners or find other stewardship contracting publications on the Sustainable Northwest web site.

The BLM and Forest Service guidance documents cover:

  • agency roles and responsibilities;
  • project goals and objectives;
  • planning of projects;
  • contracting mechanisms;
  • selecting contractors;
  • applying new contracting authorities;
  • bonding;
  • funding of projects;
  • monitoring and collaboration; and
  • reporting requirements.

The Forest Service published revised guidelines in its Renewable Resources Handbook 2409.19, Chapter 60 in December 2005. 

In January 2009, Forest Service Acquisition Management, Grants and Agreements, Timber Management, Stewardship Contracting staffs, and partner representatives met to draft national policy to increase the agency’s use of stewardship agreements.  The stewardship agreement policy includes the following key elements:

  • Partner’s contributions may include cash, real or personal property, services, and/or in-kind contributions, such as volunteer labor (funds from other Federal agencies many not be used unless specified by the Federal statute authorizing these funds).
  • Each stewardship agreement must be negotiated on its own merits.
  • The stewardship authority does not require a matching contribution; however, for the project to be defined as an agreement, the partner should contribute at least 20 percent of total project costs.
  • If Supplemental Project Agreements are used - the 20 percent requirement applies to each one.
  • Partner indirect costs can be counted as part of their contribution as long as there are other substantial contributions to the on-the-ground project.
  • Partner may begin accumulating costs that can be used towards their non-cash cost-share when they receive project approval from the Regional Forester.  Costs accrued prior to written notification cannot be attributed to the partner’s cost-share.
  • Regional Forester must approve any SPA that does not meet the 20% matching contribution requirement.

BLM released its guidelines as an employee Instruction Memorandum.


Click here to download report.

Process Essentials: New Stewardship Contracting Authorities

Stewardship contracting gives the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) new authorities or rules for managing their lands. The principal new authorities the agencies can use for stewardship projects are:

  • Exchange of goods for services: Contractors can be paid in goods—with the value of any timber or other forest products removed by the contractor used to offset what the agency owes the contractor for services performed.
  • Receipt retention: Excess receipts from the sale of timber or other forest products removed can be kept and used by the agency, rather than being deposited in the U.S. Treasury.
  • Best-value contracting: Contracts must be awarded on the basis of achieving best value to the government. A variety of criteria, in addition to price, can be used in making the award determination.
  • Less than full and open competitive contracting: Stewardship contracts can be awarded with little or no advertising or bidding.
  • End-results contracting: The agency determines the end result desired for the work, but the contractor has flexibility to propose the methods to be used, including, in some instances, which individual trees to cut.
  • Multi-year contracts: Service contracts can be let for up to 10 years, instead of the current 5 year maximum, to match the duration of timber contracts.
  • Non-Department of Agriculture administered contracts: Non-Department of Agriculture personnel can prepare and administer National Forest timber sales.

Exchange of Goods for Services

Generally, the Forest Service uses service contracts to arrange for work like road closures or forest thinning and pays for the work with money appropriated by Congress. However, because of increasing budget constraints, the agency often struggles to find money to pay for projects like watershed improvement and forest thinning. In general, this kind of work cannot be done as part of a timber sale contract. Under stewardship contracting, the agency can use some or all of the value of commercial timber or other products removed by a contractor as part of a stewardship project, to offset the costs of the conservation services performed by the contractor on that project. For example, the agency could give a contractor commercial timber (goods) in exchange for removing non-commercial, small-diameter trees, improving watershed conditions, or removing old roads (services). Goods for service exchanges can provide the agency with funds outside of the budget appropriations process. They also allow the agency to contract for a comprehensive set of land treatments with fewer contractor and/or equipment entries into a site. 

The Forest Service has developed integrated resource contracts to facilitate these exchanges. Contract templates are available on the Forest Service stewardship contracting web site. 

Receipt Retention

In most cases, when the Forest Service or BLM enters into a contract, any money earned (e.g., for commercial timber removed) must be deposited in the U.S. Treasury. Before stewardship contracting, the only major exception to this was for payments to trust funds and/or to counties. With stewardship contracting, the Forest Service and BLM can retain this money and reinvest it into stewardship projects.

  • BLM guidelines provide that the funds should, in general, be used to fund additional projects within the state in which the funds were generated;
  • Forest Service retained receipts should be used in the same project area, but may be transferred to another area if the transfer is identified in advance and approved by the Regional Forester.
  • Both agencies plan to used the funds for programmatic-level multi-party monitoring and direct on-the-ground implementation costs, but not for program planning, environmental assessments, project-level monitoring, overhead, administrative or indirect costs.

Best-Value Contracting

In a regular timber sale, a government agency has to award a contract to the bidder offering the best (highest) price for the timber. But under stewardship contracting, the Forest Service and BLM can consider other factors in deciding who wins the contract. For example, they can take into account the contractor's past performance and the quality of the contractor's past work, as well as the contractor's experience in doing the specific work called for in the contract. With best-value contracting, the agency can award a contract to a bidder who offers to do the work at a higher price than another contractor if the agency thinks that higher bidder would do a better job. The agencies can also give some preference to bidders who will do local hiring and purchasing, or ensure that value is added to some or all of the materials removed. 

Less Than Full and Open Competitive Contracting

In order to promote full and open competition in contracting, the National Forest Management Act required the Forest Service to advertise and accept bids or proposals from all responsible contractors for all timber sales valued at $10,000 or more. Stewardship contracts are exempt from this requirement, so the agencies can offer stewardship contracts, which include timber valued at more than $10,000, with less than full and open competition. For example, the agency can sole-source stewardship contracts or have a set-aside or preference for small businesses. The agencies might want to use this authority to limit competition or "sole source" contracts in order to increase investment and employment in severely distressed areas or to help build new restoration skills in a community. When the Forest Service wants to use this authority, the Forest Supervisor must justify its use to the Regional Forester. 

End-Results Contracting

Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Contracts to Manage Lands
A 2006 stewardship contract between BLM and the Forest Service and the Elk Foundation placed about 260,000 acres in Elk Foundation hands for 10 years. The stewardship contract's main goal is to improve wildlife habitat in the Blackfoot Clearwater Wildlife Management Area in Montana and on BLM land near Pinedale, Wyoming. The conservation organization will use timber harvesting and thinning to accomplish this stewardship contracting goal. 

Read more about this contract on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation web page

End-results contracting, also called "designation by description" or "designation by prescription," seeks to reduce costs and promote innovation. It does so by letting the agency describe the forest or ecosystem condition that it wants to achieve (the "end-result") and then by giving the contractor substantial flexibility in deciding how to reach that goal. For a traditional timber sale, the Forest Service must not only decide how much timber to cut, but must also mark individual trees to be harvested or left, or describe the project in such a way that any two contractors would harvest the same trees. Designation by description in a stewardship contract might be to "remove all lodgepole pine with less than a 10 inch stump diameter." An example of designation by prescription, which describes the desired end result of the treatment, would be to "retain 60 percent crown closure" during harvest. The stewardship contractor must submit a plan of work specifying how she would do the work to accomplish that end result. The Forest Service can use designation by description or by prescription for any stewardship contract, but Forest Service guidelines set limits on use of designation by prescription for cutting commercial materials. In either case, the agency would retain oversight over the projects and enforce contract terms. 

Multi-Year Contracts

Stewardship contracts can be for a period of 10 years. This is the same length of time allowed for traditional timber contracts, but longer than the five-year limit for service contracts. Long-term contracts give the agencies more flexibility in working toward a long-term goal for the condition of the land. A longer-term contract can also provide some assurance of a supply of product over a longer term, help the contractor adjust to market conditions, and make longer-term jobs available in the community. 

Process Essentials: Changes in Stewardship Contracting

In changing from a demonstration program to a semi-permanent authority, Congress made several changes in stewardship contracting. The major legislative changes are: 

Number and Duration (Term) of Potential Contracts

The Forest Service and BLM can enter into an unlimited number of stewardship contracts or agreements through September 13, 2013. Because each project can have up to a 10-year duration, they will all have to be completed by 2023. This differs from the pilot project program that allowed for a maximum of 84 projects; all of which had to be under contract by 2004 and completed by 2014. 

Agencies That Can Use Stewardship Contracts

Both the Forest Service and BLM are now authorized to use stewardship contracting. Only the Forest Service had authority to use stewardship contracting under the pilot program. 

Land Management Objectives

Stewardship contracting is intended to help the agencies achieve a variety of land management goals. These goals emphasize land protection and restoration, rather than resource extraction. Restoration goals include, but are not limited to: 

  • Road and trail maintenance or obliteration to restore or maintain water quality;
  • Protection or enhancement of soil productivity;
  • Setting of prescribed fires to improve the composition, structure, condition, and health of stands or improve wildlife habitat;
  • Watershed restoration and maintenance; restoration and maintenance of wildlife and fish habitat; and
  • Control of noxious and exotic weeds and re-establishing native plant species.

Whether there is any substantive difference between the management goals allowed under the pilot program and the semi-permanent authority is not clear. The legislation that authorized the pilot projects provided only a "sample" list, not an exhaustive list, of appropriate goals for stewardship projects. Consequently, it was broad enough to let the Forest Service address both restoration and non-restoration management goals in the pilots. The law establishing the semi-permanent authority included almost the same sample list of management goals, but also allows removal of vegetation (for example through logging, chaining or herbicide application) for both restoration purposes and for "other land management objectives" as well. Collecting monies, e.g., for sale of timber, must, however, be secondary to achieving land management goals. Critics of stewardship contracting fear that this authority will lead to abuse and projects that do not emphasize land restoration. Supporters of stewardship contracting and the agencies emphasize that the new authorities will focus on land stewardship and will not be used as a substitute for timber contracts. 

Monitoring and Evaluation

The Forest Service and BLM must evaluate their stewardship contracting projects through a multi-party monitoring and evaluation process. Besides including the agencies, the multi-party monitoring and evaluation process can include other cooperating agencies, tribes, and any interested groups and individuals. Monitoring and evaluation by a multi-party team can help ensure that a broad range of interests are incorporated into and met by stewardship projects. 

For the pilot program, the Pinchot Institute for Conservation coordinated a three-level (local, regional and national) monitoring program to evaluate projects. Local involvement in pilots ranged from minor involvement in projects developed primarily by the agency to intense, on-going efforts by multi-party groups to create and monitor projects. 

The new stewardship contracting law only requires programmatic monitoring, not individual project monitoring. Forest Service guidelines recognize that monitoring is an important aspect of stewardship contracting, and will encourage, but not require, multi-party monitoring of individual projects. The BLM guidelines direct staff to use multiparty monitoring, open to all interested parties, to monitor and evaluate a representative sampling of projects. The guidelines advise staff to conduct project level monitoring where there is sufficient public interest and either funding or volunteers. Both agencies will be evaluating collaboration and the role of local communities and other stakeholders in the development of stewardship contracting contracts and agreements. Pinchot is again coordinating the multi-party monitoring. 

Programmatic monitoring reports are available on the Forest Service Stewardship Contracting website. 


Stewardship contracting can be controversial. Both the original pilot project legislation and the legislation expanding the program were adopted as "riders" to appropriations legislation. As a result, there were no hearings and congressional debate was limited. 

SC supporters argue:

  • Land restoration and maintenance goals of stewardship contracting are important;
  • Tight budgets and traditional constraints on how the agencies can spend money often mean that agencies do not have enough funding to accomplish all of their land maintenance and restoration needs; and
  • Stewardship contracts can supplement and help diversify employment opportunities in rural forest communities.

SC critics recognize some of these benefits, but contend:

  • Stewardship contracts give the U.S. Forest Service, and now BLM, too much discretion;
  • Congress is just trying to find new ways to cut timber; and
  • Contractors will have too much discretion—and perverse incentives with goods-for-services exchanges—to remove large, ecologically important trees to pay for activities which are not economically viable.

Collaboration in Action

Click to download a copy of this publication 

The new law establishing stewardship contracting does not use the word "collaboration," but it was clear from the controversy surrounding the pilot projects that collaborative planning, implementation and monitoring of projects was extremely important to the communities that the legislation was intended to benefit. Both Forest Service and BLM have responded to communities in their implementation guidelines by directing agency staff to use collaborative processes in developing and implementing stewardship contracts. BLM guidelines call for using an open, collaborative process to identify local and rural community needs. BLM guidelines also encourage staff to seek early involvement of tribal governments and local government agencies, and any interested groups or individuals in various phases of project development and implementation. In particular, the guidelines direct managers to consult with the public and interested stakeholders early in the collaborative process for input on how excess funds generated by projects could be used. 

Similarly, Forest Service guidelines direct district rangers to develop stewardship contracting projects in collaboration with tribal governments, local governments, non-government organizations, individuals, other groups, and communities. For example, the agency should choose the authorities to be used in implementing the projects, in part, based on feedback from community collaboration. Forest Service guidelines provide that projects should have considerable local support—as evidenced by the involvement of communities—if they are to be implemented as stewardship contracts. What is considered to be the "local community" for purposes of collaboration and letting best value contracts will vary from project to project and is ultimately the decision of the district ranger.  

As contracts are implemented, BLM and the Forest Service will work together on a multi-party process for evaluating and reporting on collaboration and the role of local communities and other external stakeholders in the development of the contracts and agreements. Both agencies allow the use of funds generated through the projects to fund the collaborative process used for the programmatic-level multi-party monitoring. 

For details on collaboration within the pilot projects and the new stewardship contracting projects, see 

For a General Accountability Office critique of community involvement in stewardship contracting see

See also the Pinchot Institute's FY 2011 report on stewardship contracts and agreements, "Tracking the Growth of Stewardship Contracting in Federal Forests."


Legislation in the 113th Congress

New information will be added as the Congress takes action.



Public Laws

Stewardship End Result Contracting Projects Legislation 
Section 323 of Public Law 108-7, 16 USC section 2104

Federal Agencies and Contractors

USDA Forest Service Stewardship Contracting 
Two Forest Service websites include text of the applicable legislation, implementation guidelines, Washington office and regional SC coordinators, a list of pilot projects, various reports, and links to other web sites of interest.
Land Stewardship Demonstration Contracts, USDA Forest Service Northern Region 
This web site includes information on all Forest Service Region 1 stewardship pilot projects, general information on stewardship contracting, text of legislation, links to sample contracts and other forms, information on northern region meetings, and links to other useful stewardship contracting web sites.
BLM Guidance for Stewardship Contracting 
Instruction Memorandum 2004-081
Pinchot Institute for Conservation Stewardship Contracting 
Pinchot's web site includes a wide range of descriptive and resource material on stewardship contracting, including a brief history, a description of the multi-party monitoring process, descriptions of individual pilot projects and links to their monitoring reports.

Other Resources

The Western Collaborative Assistance Network promotes collaborative approaches to natural resource management conflicts by providing a range of expertise to help collaborative efforts get started, work through challenging issues, and demonstrate progress. Resources include a resource library, technical assistance and links to peer coaches.

Ecosystem Workforce Project
Founded in 1994, the Ecosystem Workforce Program (EWP) was created to help lead the rural Pacific Northwest into the age of ecosystem management—management for healthy communities and healthy environments. The EWP web site includes information on their projects, a variety of EWP and other relevant publications, and links to their partner organizations.
The EWP web site also includes A Guidebook for Multiparty Monitoring for Sustainable Natural Resource Management. The Guidebook is designed to help communities and their agency partners monitor activities related to ecosystem management and community-based forestry, especially the National Fire Plan, and offers suggestions about how to develop a multiparty monitoring program. 
American Forests 
American Forests is a national organization that works on a variety of forestry issues. American Forests assists the Pinchot Institute with national policy issues regarding stewardship contracting and the development of informational materials and events to proactively engage distant stakeholders in stewardship pilot efforts and "lessons learned" symposia. 
American Lands 
American Lands Alliance, formerly the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, represents citizens nationwide who are working to protect wildlife and wild places. Its web site includes a detailed criticism of stewardship contracting.
Sustainable Northwest 
For links to a variety of resources on stewardship contracting, including training manuals, forms and handbooks, see the Sustainable Northwest website.


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