A government program everyone likes: Legacy Roads and Trails

It’s not often that in rural Montana we can find a Forest Service ranger, a heavy equipment operator, conservation advocates, and others all heralding a government program. But that’s exactly what happened recently in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Montanans gathered to sing the praises of the Forest Service’s Legacy Roads and Trails Program.  (Check out the TV news story, too).

Created in 2008, the Forest Service uses Legacy Roads funds to clean up polluted rivers by ripping out old roads that, no longer needed or well-maintained, are collapsing and dumping polluted sediment into our rivers.  For recreational trails and roads, the Forest Service uses Legacy Roads funds to storm-proof them so that they can continue to provide reliable access.

The great thing about the Legacy Roads and Trails program is that it funds contractors in rural communities across the country to do environmental restoration work. It creates high-wage jobs. Nearly 150 jobs were created or maintained through this program in FY10 alone.

However, Congress cut this program by 50 percent this past year and is threatening deeper cuts next year. In Montana, last year’s cut meant the loss of about 100 jobs. It also meant that water pollution in the rivers we depend on for drinking water and fishing went unaddressed.

This past spring’s snowmelt caused lots of flooding in Montana.  The road and trail system in Montana’s national forests took a big hit: Initial estimates by Forest Service engineers are on the order of $9 million worth of infrastructure damage.  Without adequate Legacy Roads funding, the Forest Service won’t be able to fix these roads and protect our rivers and drinking water.

Legacy Roads is a win-win for Montana and for the nation.  It’s a small investment that yields big benefits to small businesses, rural communities, taxpayers, and our national forests.