(Washington, DC)- The House Committee on Agriculture has unanimously approved the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2015 (H.R.845). The bill, introduced by Congresswomen Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Tim Walz (D-MN), would direct the Forest Service to take several actions to help address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely impacting all trail users on many National Forests, including equestrians.
“The recreational horse industry contributes $32 billion a year to the economy and supports nearly 435,000 jobs nationwide,” said American Horse Council President Julie Broadway. “The industry is dependent on access to public lands and well maintained trails and the current Forest Service trail maintenance backlog is a serious threat to equestrians and all recreational users’ ability to enjoy our Nation Forests. The AHC, Backcountry Horsemen of America, and the Wilderness Society and many other recreational groups have all been working together to advance this bill.”
“Trails keep our public lands accessible for all Americans and fuel a powerful outdoor economy. They are simply too important to lose. This bill will keep more trails open, and that’s a good thing for anyone who uses or cares about our public lands” said Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Policy at The Wilderness Society.
"The condition of trails on our National Forests has reached crisis level," said Donald Saner, chairman of the Back Country Horsemen of America. "Public access on many forest trails is either blocked by miles of downed timber or made unsafe from a lack of upkeep. The bill before Congress represents a low-cost solution to encourage more volunteers and partners to help shoulder this burden. At a time of shrinking federal budgets, why would Congress not act to pass this important bill?"
A June 2013, study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Forest Service has deferred trail maintenance needs that exceed half-billion dollars, and only one-quarter of the agency’s 158,000 miles of trails meets agency standards for maintenance. This maintenance backlog is causing access and safety issues for equestrians and all trail users on national forests.
The National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act would direct the Forest Service to develop a strategy to more effectively utilize volunteers and partners to assist in maintaining national forest trails. It will also provide outfitters and guides the ability to perform trail maintenance activities in lieu of permit fees. Additionally, the bill would address a liability issue that has discouraged some national forests from utilizing volunteers and partner organizations to help perform trail maintenance and would direct the Forest Service to identify and prioritize specific areas with the greatest need for trail maintenance in the national forest system.
“In the current fiscal environment it is unlikely Congress will appropriate additional funds to directly address the trail maintenance backlog. However, this bill has strong bi-partisan support because it will improve trail maintenance without the need for additional funding,” said Ben Pendergrass, AHC, Sr. VP, Policy & Legislative Affairs. “The AHC strongly supports this legislation and is pleased the Committee has overwhelmingly approved it. We hope the full House and Senate will move quickly to pass this bill before the end of the year.”
The AHC encourages all equestrians and trail users to contact their Senators and Representatives and urge them to pass the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act before Congress adjourns for the year.