November 28, 2016 – Today President Obama signed the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (NFSTSA), a bill for which American Hiking Society and partner organizations American Horse Council, Back Country Horsemen of America, and the Wilderness Society, all advocated.
In 2013, the Government Accountability Office conducted a study of U.S. Forest Service trails that revealed a $314 million backlog in trail maintenance and that only one fourth of all Forest Service trails met the agency’s standards for trail maintenance. Having more miles of trails (158,000) than any other federal agency, the U.S. Forest Service trail maintenance backlog has been a significant concern to American Hiking Society and our members. This new law will help address the backlog, restore trails that are either closed or on the cusp of closing, and connect more Americans with their public lands.
Chief among the measures included in the law is the requirement that the U.S. Forest Service develop a strategy that would increase the role of partners and volunteers in trail maintenance. Such a strategy would build on the already successful volunteer efforts that are on-going in National Forests and would likely increase Americans’ connection to these spectacular natural resources. While the Forest Service does currently use volunteers to help maintain their trails, such a program as envisioned in the law would involve a more strategic and methodical approach to increasing and enhancing this valued resource.
Additionally, the law requires the U.S. Forest Service to identify 9-15 priority landscapes for increased trail maintenance using volunteers where appropriate. This effort would ensure that those areas most in need would receive additional attention to address those needs.
American Hiking Society is grateful to Senators Enzi (R-WY) and Bennet (D-CO) and Representatives Lummis (R-WY) and Walz (D-MN) for introducing the legislation earlier this Congressional session. American Hiking is also thankful to our members and donors who support us in our advocacy work on behalf of America’s hiking trails and the lands that surround them.