Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
An Earth Day gift for national forests and climate resiliency
The U.S. Forest Service manages twice as many road miles as the national highway system with only a small fraction of the budget. More than 370,000 miles of roads, built half a century ago, require over $3.2 billion in unfulfilled maintenance needs. Hundreds of thousands of culverts, more than 13,000 bridges and 159,000 miles of trails are all components of the agency’s dilapidated infrastructure that keep road engineers awake at night with worry.
The implications of decaying and abandoned infrastructure are severe. Crumbling roads bleed sediment into rivers, creeks, and wetlands, endangering fish and other aquatic wildlife. Failing and undersized culverts block fish like salmon and trout from migrating to spawning grounds or reaching cold water refugia. Habitat sliced into small pieces by roads harms wildlife like grizzly bear and elk. And as more and more of the American public seek outdoor retreats, they often find roads are closed due to storm damage and safety concerns.
“The Representatives’ Legacy Roads and Trails bill addresses the past by healing the harm from so many miles and miles of worsening roads,” said Marlies Wierenga, Pacific Northwest Conservation Manager for WildEarth Guardians. “But the bill also looks to the future by strategically reconnecting habitat for migrating wildlife and fish, protecting clean water for communities, and ensuring access in a changing climate.”
The Legacy Roads and Trails program (established in 2008 and subsequently defunded in 2018) proved to be an effective, no-waste program with demonstrated results. For a decade, the program supported projects such as fixing roads and trails to withstand more intense storms, and decommissioning obsolete roads. It also funded projects to remove or expand culverts under roads to allow fish passage. The program has a proven track record of saving taxpayer money, improving habitat, creating jobs, and guaranteeing safer access for all.
“Legacy Roads and Trails works. The Forest Service found that sediment entering streams decreased by 60-80% after its roads were storm-proofed or decommissioned,” said Chris Krupp, Public Lands Guardian for WildEarth Guardians. “This is a huge benefit to downstream drinking water providers and the 66 million Americans who rely on our National Forests for clean drinking water.”
Increased funding to address severely damaged fish and wildlife habitat in national forests and grasslands will provide jobs to rural communities. Most of the funding in the program goes directly to on-the-ground work for local contractors and specialists. Heavy-equipment operators are particularly well-poised to benefit from the program.
“We are grateful and excited for Representative Schrier’s leadership with this important legislation,” said Marla Fox, Interim Wild Places Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Legacy Roads and Trails is uniquely positioned to shape a more resilient and adaptive landscape for wildlife, fish and waterways across the nation in the face of the current climate and biodiversity crises.”
A 10-year accomplishments report on the Legacy Roads and Trails Program can be found here.
A Forest Service story map on Legacy Roads and Trails-funded work to replace 1000 culverts to reconnect fish migration corridors can be found here. Embedded are several informative videos including a 4-minute video available here and a 16-minute video available here.