H.R. 845, National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act

H.R. 845

National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act

Committee
Agriculture

Date
September 26, 2016 (114th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
John Huston

Floor Situation

On­­­­ Monday, September 26, 2016, the House will likely consider H.R. 845, National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act under suspension of the rules. H.R. 845 was introduced on February 10, 2015, by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Committee on Agriculture, and in addition, to the Committee on Natural Resources. The Committee on Agriculture ordered the bill reported by voice vote on September 14, 2016.

Bill Summary

H.R. 845 requires the Secretary of Agriculture, acting through the U.S. Forest Service, to develop a strategy to significantly increase the role of volunteers in the maintenance of federal owned trails. The bill sets a goal to increase trail maintenance by volunteers and partners by 100 percent by the date that is 5 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.

Background

The U.S. Forest Service is a federal agency housed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture that manages 193 million acres of public land. This includes managing and protecting 154 national forests and 20 grasslands, including 158,000 miles of trails, in 44 states and Puerto Rico.[1]

According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report: “The Forest Service has more miles of trail than it has been able to maintain, resulting in a persistent maintenance backlog with a range of negative effects. In fiscal year 2012, the agency reported that it accomplished at least some maintenance on about 37 percent of its 158,000 trail miles and that about one-quarter of its trail miles met the agency’s standards. The Forest Service estimated the value of its trail maintenance backlog to be $314 million in fiscal year 2012, with an additional $210 million for annual maintenance, capital improvement, and operations. Trails not maintained to quality standards have a range of negative effects, such as inhibiting trail use and harming natural resources, and deferring maintenance can add to maintenance costs.”[2]

“The Forest Service relies on a combination of internal and external resources to help maintain its trail system. Internal resources include about $80 million allocated annually for trail maintenance activities plus funding for other agency programs that involve trails. External resources include volunteer labor, which the Forest Service valued at $26 million in fiscal year 2012, and funding from federal programs, states, and other sources.”[3]

GAO recommended, among other things, that the Forest Service (1) analyze trails program needs and available resources and develop options for narrowing the gap between them and take steps to assess and improve the sustainability of its trails and (2) take steps to enhance training on collaborating with and managing volunteers who help maintain trails. H.R. 845 requires the Forest Service to better utilize volunteer resources to reduce the backlog of needed trail maintenance.

According to the bill sponsor: “As we look to stretch taxpayer dollars during these tight fiscal times, we need to make sure we maximize use of all our existing resources. The National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act will do just that. Refocusing on volunteers and partners to help the Forest Service is a sure fire way of making progress on the backlog and opening up these trails to public access. The studies into utilizing fire crews during off season and letting outfitters work off some of their fees will help make sure we leave no avenue untested to clean up our trails.”[4]

————————-
[1] See U.S. Forest Service Website, About the Agency
[2] See GAO Report, “Long- and Short-Term Improvements Could Reduce Maintenance Backlog and Enhance System Sustainability,” June 27, 2013.
[3] Id.
[4] See Rep. Cynthia Lummis Press Release, “Lummis, Walz Introduce Bi-partisan Trails Bill,” February 10, 2015.

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing H.R. 845 would cost $3 million a year over the 2017-2021 period, assuming appropriation of necessary amounts. CBO further estimates that the bill would increase direct spending for additional compensation claims from volunteers related to workers compensation, torts, and lost or damaged property by $1 million over the 2017-2026 period, therefore pay-as-you-go-procedures apply.

Additional Information

For questions or further information please contact John Huston with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-5539.