A Message From Randy Rasmussen
The Senate has passed the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act (H.R.845/ S.1110). This follows House passage of the bill earlier this fall. The bill, introduced by Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Tim Walz (D-MN) and Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), would direct the Forest Service to take several actions to help address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely impacting all trail users on many National Forests, including equestrians.
“The AHC applauds Congressional passage of this important legislation and would like to thank the bill’s sponsors Representatives Lummis and Walz and Senators Enzi and Bennet for their leadership, We would also like to thank Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry, Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts(R-KS) for their help” said American Horse Council President Julie Broadway. “The AHC has made trails a priority and has been working with Backcountry Horsemen of America, the Wilderness Society and many other recreational groups to advance this bill.”
“Many people have worked to achieve passage of this bill over the last couple of years and this is an important victory for equestrians and everyone who enjoys our national forests” said Ben Pendergrass, AHC, Sr. VP, Policy & Legislative Affairs. “National forest and trails are important to thousands of recreational horseback riders and are a vital component of the $32 billion recreation segment of the horse industry. This bill will help make certain that equestrians and all trail users are able to have access to and enjoy our national forest.”
“We need to provide more opportunities for Americans to experience their great outdoors, and this bill will help do that. Keeping more trails open is a good thing for anyone who cares about our public lands. We applaud the Senate for passing this important legislation and thank Representatives Lummis and Walz and Senators Enzi and Bennet for their commitment to keeping America’s trails open,” said Paul Spitler, Director of Wilderness Policy at The Wilderness Society.
“We are overjoyed that Congress recognized the need to improve the condition of trails on our national forests. Public access to public lands provides many benefits, including enhanced tourism and a stronger local and national economy. This bill will encourage more volunteers and partners, like the Back Country Horsemen, to concentrate their energy toward reducing the trail maintenance backlog. We applaud Representatives Lummis and Walz and Senators Enzi and Bennet, “said Donald Saner, chairman of the Back Country Horsemen of America.
A June 2013, study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Forest Service has deferred trail maintenance needs that exceed half-billion dollars, and only one-quarter of the agency’s 158,000 miles of trails meets agency standards for maintenance. This maintenance backlog is causing access and safety issues for equestrians and all trail users on national forests.
The National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act would direct the Forest Service to develop a strategy to more effectively utilize volunteers and partners to assist in maintaining national forest trails. It will also provide outfitters and guides the ability to perform trail maintenance activities in lieu of permit fees. Additionally, the bill would address a liability issue that has discouraged some national forests from utilizing volunteers and partner organizations to help perform trail maintenance and would direct the Forest Service to identify and prioritize specific areas with the greatest need for trail maintenance in the national forest system.