Our report on the Forest Service's Legacy Roads and Trails Program

Montana Conservation Corps re-vegetating an unneeded forest service road.

Adam Switalski, Wildlands CPR

We have just released a report that shows that roads in America's forests are being restored to improve water quality, habitat and recreational access. But it also reveals that there is still much more to be done. 

The report was released in conjunction with Wildlands CPR and the Forest Service to assess the agency's Legacy Roads and Trails program. Legacy Roads and Trails was created in 2008 to restore watersheds damaged by decaying roads. It funds the decommissioning of unneeded roads, repair and maintenance on those that are needed, as well as projects meant to restore fish passage near roads. The program not only reduces environmental impact and long-term spending, it also creates jobs and improves access to America's national forests. 

Challenges that the program aims to address include:
  • Degraded drinking water and increased costs of municipal water treatment
  • Poorly maintained roads that cost taxpayers millions to restore 
  • Restricted access to recreational destinations due to collapsed roads 
  • Decaying roads that contribute to sediment pollution in streams, endangering fish and therefore fishing
  • Fragmentation of habitat, which affects wildlife populations and related hunting opportunities
  • Invasion of non-native pests, pathogens and weeds due to roads
Here is a slideshow that further explains the challenges of roads in U.S. forests:

Since 2008, Congress has appropriated $270 million to Legacy Roads and Trails, enabling the Forest Service to:  
  • Decommission 4,510 miles of unneeded roads to reconnect habitat and reduce sediment in streams
  • Maintain 12,053 miles of needed roads to increase their resilience and accessibility
  • Improve 3,215 miles of trails to ensure access to recreation 
  • Create or maintain an average of 810-1,296 jobs annually
  • Reduce annual road maintenance costs by approximately $3 million per year
  • Restored 1,030 miles of stream habitat, 243 acres of lake habitat and 177,233 acres of terrestrial habitat
While these numbers indicate that Legacy Roads and Trails is making a difference, its projects have addressed less than 5% of the road system, leaving a significant amount of work remaining. 
 
You can view these maps to see where these projects have taken place:
 
Read the full report below or download here:

Legacy Roads and Trails Report, 2013

 

See also:

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