Dear Member of Congress:
As recreation and conservation organizations whose members enjoy and steward National Forest trails nationwide, we are writing to ask your support for new approaches to address the trail maintenance crisis facing the National Forest System. The Problem: America’s National Forest trails are squeezed between the demands of an enthusiastic public and the challenge of shrinking budgets and a lack of attention. According to the comprehensive June 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office, the Forest Service trail maintenance backlog exceeds a half-billion dollars, and only one-quarter of the agency’s 158,000 miles of trails meets agency standards for maintenance. Nearly two-thirds of these trails receive no maintenance at all.
Meanwhile, National Forest trails are giving back to American communities at unprecedented levels: since 1980, trail use has increased nationwide by 376% as people seek exercise, relaxation, and adventure on America’s public lands. Forest trails help fuel a $646 billion recreation industry. The constituency of people supporting trails is enthusiastic and energetic, bringing people together through unique partnerships that link hunters, horsemen, hikers, climbers, anglers, bicyclists, conservationists and many others in service of our national trails system. Today, nearly a quarter of Forest Service trail maintenance is provided by volunteers, state funding, and other federal and non-federal sources.
The enormous backlog of trail maintenance on our national forests inhibits trail use, poses safety hazards, harms natural resources, and increases annual maintenance costs. Our forest trails are simply too important to let lapse into ruin and disrepair.
We believe that additional resources are necessary to fully maintain our nation’s trails. However, in a time of limited budgets, there are things we can do now to improve trail maintenance. The proposals below will not require additional funding, but will result in substantial improvements in trail maintenance within the National Forest System.
We urge Congress to consider the following legislative proposals for improving and safeguarding our rich treasury of national forest trails:
• Create a national forest volunteer and partnership strategy specific to expanding the use of volunteers and partners such as conservation and service corps in maintaining national forest trails. Currently, the Forest Service has no overall strategy for incorporating partners, service corps and volunteers in trail maintenance. In 1998, Congress established a volunteer coordination program for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This program has been very effective in increasing volunteerism in national wildlife refuges. Congress could create a similar program for the U.S. Forest Service.
• Require the Forest Service to study the expanded use of fire crews for trail maintenance. Historically, fire crews played an important role in maintaining National Forest trails through trail maintenance work in the off-season and when not fighting fires. The agency should be directed to assess the feasibility of expanding use of such crews to maintain National Forest trails—without jeopardizing firefighting capabilities.
• Direct the Forest Service to adopt long-term solutions to legal liability concerns in order to support and facilitate the use of partners and volunteers. Liability concerns currently are impeding volunteerism in the National Forest System. The Forest Service has developed a short-term solution that has the potential to address these concerns, thereby increasing volunteerism and partnerships in forest trail maintenance. Require the agency to adopt a long-term solution for FY 2015 and beyond.
• Study a proposal to permit outfitters and guides to partially offset their fees through trail maintenance. Outfitters and guides pay for the privilege of operating their business on public lands. Direct the Forest Service to assess the feasibility and related issues regarding allowing outfitters and guides to treat their trail maintenance activities as an in-kind contribution to offset fees owed to the federal government.
National forest trails are important gateways to America’s great outdoors, and they demand our immediate attention. We look forward to working with you to develop legislative solutions to the crisis in trail maintenance that undermines access to, and enjoyment of, our beloved national forests.
Jim McGarvey Chairman Back Country Horsemen of America
Paul Spitler Director of Wilderness Campaigns The Wilderness Society
Wayne Allard Vice President for Government Relations American Motorcyclist Association
David Brown Executive Director America Outdoors Association
Ben Pendergrass Vice President for Government Affairs American Horse Council
Jim Lyon Vice President for Conservation Policy National Wildlife Federation
Pat Tabor President Professional Wilderness Outfitters Association
Gary Werner Executive Director Partnership For The National Trails System
Don Treadway Executive Vice President American Quarter Horse Association
Peter Olsen Vice President for Programs and Govt. Relations American Hiking Society
Eric Murdock Policy Director Access Fund
Jeannette Stawski Executive Director Association of Outdoor Recreation & Education
David Goldston Director of Government Affairs Natural Resources Defense Council
Holly Groshek Acting Executive Director Equine Land Conservation Resource
Joe Gersen Director of Government Relations Public Lands Service Coalition
Dale Penney President and Chief Executive Officer Student Conservation Association
Grant Simonds Government Affairs Liaison Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association
Mac Manard Executive Director Montana Outfitters and Guides Association
Mark Halley Vice President Eastern Oregon Outfitters & Guides Association
Ralph Eyre Owner Cornucopia Lodge Wilderness Outfitters
David Calahan Chairman Applegate Trails Association
Bernie Willis President Back Country Horsemen of Alaska
Richard Waller President Back Country Horsemen of California
Jan Potterveld Chairman Back Country Horsemen of Colorado
Karen Kimball State Chairman Back Country Horsemen of Idaho
Debbie Spickermann Chairperson Back Country Horsemen of New Mexico
Jerry Bentz President Back Country Horsemen of Oregon
Terry Morrison Chairman Back Country Horsemen of Utah
Trygve Culp President Back Country Horsemen of Washington
Dick Kleinhardt President and Legislative Liaison Back Country Horsemen, Pigeon River & Beyond
David Blount Chairman Benton MacKaye Trail Association
Doug Bechen President Black Hills Back Country Horsemen of South Dakota
Carol Treadwell Executive Director Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation
Julie Mach Conservation Manager Colorado Mountain Club
Bryan Martin Board President Continental Divide Trail Coalition
Mike Welch Executive Director Friends of Pathways
Kevin Gorman Executive Director Friends of the Columbia Gorge
Jonathan Oppenheimer Senior Conservation Associate Idaho Conservation League
Myron Amsden President Idaho Horse Council
Sally Ferguson Board Member Idaho Trails Association
Skip Kowalski President Montana Wildlife Federation
Martinique Grigg Executive Director The Mountaineers
Al LePage Executive Director National Coast Trail Association
Doug Scott Chairman National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance
Andrea Ketchmark Director of Trail Development North Country Trail Association
Tom Wolf Chair/Executive Director Oregon Council Trout Unlimited
Mike Wagner President Oregon Equestrian Trails
Mike Dawson Director of Trail Operations Pacific Crest Trail Association
Jon Knechtel Director of Trail Operations Pacific Northwest Trail Association
Hope Robertson President Siskiyou Upland Trails Association
Bill Hodge Director Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards
Cailin O’Brien-Feeney Policy Director Winter Wildlands Alliance
Jim Gehlhausen State Chairman Wyoming Back Country Horsemen
Gary Wilmot Executive Director Wyoming Outdoor Council
Jim Wolf President Wyoming Back Country Horsemen, Teton County Chapter
Carolyn Schroth Executive Director Wyoming Wilderness Association