releasing hardwood understory in a white pine stand

Environmentalism across the U.S. and around the world was spawned from the sludge of greed, industrialization and indifference. Some of the earliest environmental writings in the world date back at least to the 10th century and the Arab Agricultural Revolution. Arab “conservationists” were concerned about air and water contamination and the mishandling of animal waste. In 1272 King Edward I of England banned the burning of sea-coal because of air pollution. Benjamin Franklin led other concerned Philadelphia citizens to petition the Pennsylvania Assembly to remove tanneries from and stop waste dumping in Philadelphia’s commercial district.

And environmentalists in the U.S. continued to react to events like the extirpation of the passenger pigeon and the near loss of the American Bison. Three-mile-island, Love Canal and other environmental catastrophes have helped galvanize the image of American environmental groups as those champions who go around righting wrongs.

And, trust me, there have been; there are; and there will be enough “wrongs” to validate this “watchdog” mentality among environmental organizations. But there is also a great opportunity for a different pro-active mindset.

I wrote about the USDA Forest Service’s stewardship contracts for Smoky Mountain News on January 19:

The article points out many of the differences between stewardship contracting and traditional timber bids. Here are some of the main ones. The focus of the project is forest restoration not dollars for board feet. The money received for timber harvested pays for the restoration. Plus most of the money stays in the region rather than going to the U.S. Treasury and can be used for other restoration projects across the forest.

Another difference, according to Dale Remington, sales forester for the National Forests in North Carolina, is that stewardship contracting is a collaborative effort from the start, bringing together loggers, environmental groups, the public and other interested parties at the beginning of the process to try and shape the goals and outcomes of the project.

Stewardship contracting also allows the Forest Service to enter into Master Stewardship Agreements with non-profits and/or other agencies giving those organizations or agencies the responsibility of overseeing the project on the ground and insuring that stewardship goals are met.

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission just signed a Master Stewardship Agreement with the Forest Service in North Carolina, making it the first state agency in the nation to do so. According to Mallory Martin, deputy director of NCWRC, “This agreement will allow our two agencies to collaborate early on to explore the best possible use of funds to benefit North Carolina’s wildlife resources.” Other groups the Forest Service has worked with in North Carolina include the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Ruffed Grouse Society and Quail Unlimited. When I saw NCWRC added to this list, I thought, “Is this forest management or game management?”

So I called Remington to ask him how the Forest Service felt about stewardship contracting with environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club.

“Actually, I’m meeting with David Ray of The Nature Conservancy [in North Carolina], Thursday [2/17],” Remington said. He said the Forest Service welcomed all partners with the resources and expertise to help administer stewardship contracts.

“I would love to be the first to sit down and hash out a stewardship agreement with an organization like, say, Wild South,” Remington said.

Now, for those watchdog groups out there, stewardship contracting doesn’t bypass the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and all the old avenues are still open if there is something untoward going on. But for those groups with the vision, the resources and the will to restore and help shape America’s forested landscape, now’s the time to shift gears.