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WildEarth Guardians supports new bill advancing public participation and transparency in public lands management
“Legacy Roads and Trails is a critical program to restore national forest watersheds plagued by an oversized and poorly maintained road system,” said Ryan Talbott, Pacific Northwest Conservation Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Removing unneeded roads reduces sedimentation into streams that are critical habitat for imperiled species like salmon and steelhead. LRT also benefits the local economy by creating good-paying jobs in restoration – it’s a win-win.”
The Forest Service manages a massive road and trail system, including more than 370,000 miles of roads, 159,000 miles of trails, hundreds of thousands of culverts, and more than 13,000 bridges. Much of this infrastructure is aging and not properly maintained. Poorly maintained roads and trails can quickly deteriorate, dumping sediment into streams and rivers and clogging culverts that prevent fish migration. In some areas, roads and trails are in such poor condition that the public is blocked from accessing treasured hiking and camping sites.
The LRT program was established in 2008 to help address this maintenance backlog, which the Forest Service estimates is nearly $5 billion. Between 2008-2017, LRT program funding retired over 7,000 miles of unneeded roads, repaired 5,000 miles of trails, replaced over 1,000 culverts, and restored over 1,600 miles of stream habitat. Moreover, LRT created or maintained 330-528 jobs annually across the nation, bringing dollars and jobs into rural communities.
After being defunded between 2018-2021, Congress reauthorized the LRT program permanently in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), providing an initial $250 million over five years (2022-2026). Since being reauthorized, the Forest Service has failed to include the public in its process for allocating program funding. The bills require the Forest Service to include the public in that process.