In Final Days Before Recess, Congress Passes Legislation to Support Forest Trails
Trail lovers have something new to be thankful for during the holiday: the Senate passed a bill to preserve trails.
Hikers have something new to be thankful for during the holiday: the Senate passed a bill to support trails. The legislation passed in the House of Representatives in September.
The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (HR 845) will give the United States Forest Service two years to come up with a strategy to increase volunteerism and other innovative solutions to maintain more than 157,000 miles of trails across the nation.
The bill has been praised by hikers, equestrians, motorized users and other recreation enthusiasts as a much-needed step toward comprehensive stewardship of trails. The goal of the legislation is to increase volunteers on Forest Service trails by 100 percent in 5 years. The Secretary of Agriculture will also select between nine and 15 priority areas for trail maintenance and improvements.
Other benefits of the bill include:
- Address barriers to volunteerism on public lands;
- Assess opportunities to use fire crews to repair trails;
- Prioritize partnerships in areas where maintenance backlogs are jeopardizing access to National Forest lands; and
- Establishes a pilot program to offset fees with stewardship credits for outdoor guide permits.
Bipartisan support for public lands is more important now than ever as interest in outdoor recreation increases and land managers face the challenge of shrinking budgets. A 2013 report from the Government Accountability Office found that the Forest Service is currently able to maintain just a quarter of its trails to the agency's standards under recent budget allocations. The report also found that almost two-thirds of trails receive no maintenance.The passage of this bill is a step in the right direction for America's great outdoors and will allow the Forest Service to address some of the maintenance backlog to improve trail experiences for everyone.
The President is expected to sign the bill into law by the end of the year.
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