Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Report: 3 of 4 U.S. Forest Service trails fail to meet standards

A new federal report says only one-quarter of U.S. Forest Service trails meet the agency’s own standards as it attempts to catch up with a $524 million maintenance deficit. Volunteer groups like the Backcountry Horsemen of America and The Wilderness Society have stepped into that gap, but they worry the backlog will drive folks out of the woods. “We found problems with trail maintenance was undermining support for wilderness and public land in general,” said Paul Spitler, director of wilderness campaigns for The Wilderness Society. “They go there and find trails aren’t maintained, and they can’t access places they want to get to. That’s not what people expect when they go visit public lands. We need to get a handle on this problem and figure out some solutions. If we don’t, we’re in danger of losing the public.” Those two groups petitioned members of Congress to look into the matter, since the last similar study was done in 1989. U.S. Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Jim Moran, D-Va., officially requested the study. The Government Accountability Office report released on June 27 found the Forest Service did some maintenance on 37 percent of its 158,000 miles of trail in fiscal 2012. But it estimated another $314 million in deferred maintenance remained on the to-do list, along with $210 million in unfinished annual maintenance, capital improvements and operations. In its recommendations, the GAO called for closer work with volunteers to get projects done...more

And yet, Congress continues to appropriate more dollars for land acquisition (Simpson chairs the Interior Subcommittee on Appropriations) when they can't manage what they have.

This year for land acquisition the Forest Service requested $177 million, the Park Service $100 million and the BLM $49 million.

And why aren't the volunteer efforts more effective?

But even volunteer work costs money. Before Himmel can mount a Backcountry Horsemen work party, the Forest Service has to get them certified in first aid, chain saw use and other necessary skills. If the project takes place in designated wilderness, that may require training in traditional tools like cross-cut saws. The agency also often provides food, fuel and other supplies for the volunteers to use. The GAO report identified that as a potential reason for the maintenance backlog. It noted “certain agency policies and procedures complicate trail maintenance efforts, such as the agency’s lack of standardized training in trails field skills, which limits agency expertise."

If you really want their help, change the damn policy and procedures.

No comments: