On June 19, Congresswomen Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2014 (H.R. 4886). The bill 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 AHC, Backcountry Horsemen of America, and the Wilderness Society were significantly involved in the creation of this bill.
A June 2013, study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 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. 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. This bill will help improve trail maintenance without the need for additional funding.
The bill is supported by the American Horse Council and many other recreation organizations.