Today, Washington Wild coordinated a joint comment letter to Senators Cantwell and Murray signed by 44 conservation, recreation and wildlife groups supporting the restoration of the Legacy Roads and Trails (LRT) Program.
The recent markup on the 2019 House appropriations bill failed to include funding for the U.S. Forest Service’s LRT program – a program that was conceived in Washington State but has benefited drinking water, wildlife and fish habitat and recreational access across the country. The hope is that funding can be resotred in the Senate version of the 2019 funding bill.
Established in 2008, this widely popular, bi-partisan conservation program funds Forest Service work to urgently needed road decommissioning, road and trail repair and maintenance, and removal of fish passage barriers. The program emphasizes areas where Forest Service roads may be contributing to water quality problems in streams and water bodies that support threatened, endangered, and sensitive species or community water sources.
With road maintenance budgets at just 16% of what they were in 1990, and the President’s Budget proposing even more cuts for FY19, the Forest Service is continually beset by infrastructure problems. Every year, storms damage more roads and compound the problem and the costs.
Over the last decade, on national forest lands in Washington State, LRT funding produced significant measurable results:
- Maintained and/or storm-proofed 2,279 miles of needed roads, helping Washingtonians get where they wish to go on Forest Service lands
- Reclaimed 299 miles of unneeded roads, preventing sediment from entering streams, many of which supply drinking water to rural and urban towns and cities
- Restored fish passage at 48 stream crossings, boosting opportunity for Washington’s $1.1B sportfishing industry and advancing salmon restoration goals
- Improved 105 miles of trails, keeping the $535M National Forest recreation industry going strong
- created or maintained 330-528 jobs annually across the nation, bringing dollars and jobs into rural communities
- saved America’s taxpayers $3 million per year in road maintenance costs
In Washington alone, the Forest Service maintains 21,561 miles of roads – which is enough to drive from Seattle to D.C. eight times! Only 67% of these are technically “open” for public access, and many of those “open” roads are actually inaccessible due to lack of maintenance, landslides, sinkholes, potholes, large gullies, broken culverts and bridges and storm damage.
The Forest Service also maintains 9,167 miles of trails in Washington – which is enough to hike from Seattle to D.C. more than three times! Many of these trails are also falling apart, risking public safety. And there are still over 990 barriers to fish passage on national forest lands.
The Legacy Roads and Trails program aims to adapt the road system to a more manageable size over time, reducing fiscal and environmental burdens and enabling the Forest Service to ensure better and more reliable access. It’s a simple solution to a formidable problem. But it needs funding to succeed.