House bill pushes Forest Service to improve trail maintenance

2014-06-19T20:00:00Z House bill pushes Forest Service to improve trail maintenanceBy ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian Ravalli Republic

A bill encouraging the U.S. Forest Service to improve its trail maintenance received widespread support from Montana outdoors groups this week.

The Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, The Wilderness Society and others heralded the introduction of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act by Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, and Tim Walz, D-Minnesota. The bill would expand the use of volunteer help on trail maintenance and codify how the Forest Service prioritizes its maintenance backlog.

Last year, a Government Accountability Office report found the Forest Service had a $314 million deferred-maintenance backlog, along with $210 million in unfinished annual maintenance, capital improvements and operations in its trails program.

The GAO reported the agency had done some maintenance on 37 percent of its 158,000 miles of trail in fiscal 2012. Only one in four of those trails met the Forest Service’s own standards, the report stated.

“This is similar to the approach the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used several years ago to increase volunteerism on wildlife refuges,” said Paul Spitler of The Wilderness Society. “It was very successful. This would start a pilot program giving outfitters and guides credit for the trail maintenance they do which they could use against their permit fees.”

It would also create a process where people could nominate trails or facilities most in need of work, which the Forest Service would use to prioritize its maintenance program each season.

Other groups supporting the bill include the Backcountry Horsemen of America, American Motorcyclist Association, American Hiking Society, Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation, and the America Outdoors Association.

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

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