On April 22, in honor of Earth Day, U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) joined Reps. Kim Schrier M.D. (WA-08) and Mike Simpson (ID-02) in introducing the bipartisan Legacy Roads and Trails (LRT) Act which leverages public and private funding to address water quality and access for threatened and endangered species like the Chinook salmon, bull trout, and steelhead. The LRT program focuses on addressing our national backlog of deteriorating infrastructure, and does so while protecting American rivers and streams, endangered fish, and community water systems with targeted projects.
“Since 2007, the Legacy Roads and Trails Program has provided resources to improve forest roads and trails in areas where the infrastructure is deteriorating and resulting in a negative impact on water quality, threatened and endangered species, and access to the recreational opportunities that are so important to folks in our region. These valuable resources have restored fish passages and provided access to upstream habitat for aquatic species, maintained and storm-proofed roads to bolster public safety, and improved trails for recreational use so folks can explore, stay active, and connect to their communities. As someone born and raised on the Olympic Peninsula, those are big priorities for me,” said Rep. Kilmer. “That’s why I appreciate Rep. Schrier’s leadership and partnership on this issue as we introduce this Legacy Roads and Trails legislation, which ensures that the federal government continues to step up to address these critical infrastructure challenges to protect the health of our salmon and improve the safety and accessibility of these roads and trails for generations to come.”
“In Washington state, this program has been particularly impactful while facilitating hundreds of culvert repairs for fish passage- including salmon. Headwaters located in national forests are critical to salmon populations downstream,” said Rep. Schrier. “Chronic underfunding has left a long backlog of projects and I’m proud to present this solution. As we face the increasing threat of climate change and the need to improve our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, we must ensure programs like LRT are part of the dialogue. This is a big win for our environment, our fish, and our forests. I look forward to reintroducing it on the House floor.”
“The state of Idaho has one of the highest levels of deferred maintenance needs for roads, bridges, and trails on the more than 20 million acres administered by the US Forest Service. This legislation is about taking care of our forest infrastructure and resources, preserving access for recreation and commercial activities, and supporting high-wage restoration jobs. LRT is a proven, targeted, and collaborative program that benefits Idaho’s water quality and native fish habitat and helps maintain Idahoans’ way of life. I am pleased to join Rep. Schrier on this bipartisan legislation,” said Rep. Simpson.
LRT projects include repairing roads and trails used for public access, replacing failed or undersized culverts to reconnect fish habitat, and storm proofing or reclaiming roads to prevent sediment pollution from entering waterways important for salmon, trout, and drinking water. Supporters of the program highlight that it is unique in that it delivers environmental, recreational, and economic benefits.
U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse (CO-02) Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) are original co-sponsors of the Legacy Roads and Trails Act.
Beginning in FY2018 and into FY2019, the LRT program began to be eroded by Congress despite the considerable improvements it brought to Forest Service watersheds, fish habitat, and recreational infrastructure. But the need is still significant. The Forest Service has identified a backlog of over $3.5 billion in deferred maintenance for roads and $675 million for priority watershed restoration projects in just a portion of the watersheds nationwide.
The Legacy Roads and Trails Act authorizes the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program through 2030 and requires the Forest Service to develop a national strategy to carry out the program. Specifically, this bill would:
- Carry out critical deferred maintenance, urgent repairs, road and trail relocation, and associated activities on National Forest System roads, trails, and bridges
- Restore passages of fish and other aquatic species by removing or replacing unnatural barriers
- Decommission unneeded roads or convert them into National Forest System trails
- Prioritize projects that protect or restore
- water quality and watershed function;
- a watershed that supplies a public drinking water system; or
- the habitat of a threatened, endangered, or sensitive fish or wildlife species.
“Having seen the positive results in Washington State, Representatives Kilmer and Schrier understand why this program is so critical for forests across the country,” said Tom Uniack, Executive Director for Washington Wild. “We thank them for taking a leadership role in Congress supporting clean water, salmon habitat, recreational access and local jobs.”
“The Legacy Roads and Trails program works because it is targeted and results oriented,” said Joel Webster, vice president for Western conservation at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “This bill would boost a program that has made fishing and hunting better, while providing high-paying jobs that help support families in rural communities. And it is particularly timely to make these improvements as the Forest Service faces a historic maintenance backlog.”
“Our national forests have a large, aging and severely underfunded roads system,” said Cecilia Clavet, senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy. “Many of these degraded roads pose a risk to the health of forests’ streams, wetlands and sensitive soils. The Legacy Roads and Trails Act recognizes the role of forests as natural infrastructure by codifying an important Forest Service program that will support a more resilient road system. This will help not only improve forest roads but also protect fish and wildlife habitat, improve water quality and create jobs. We commend Reps. Schrier and Simpson for introducing the act, and look forward to helping advance this important investment in our national forests.”
“Roads and trails provide critical infrastructure needed for both recreation and management of Forest Service lands. However, the growing demand for outdoor recreation is taxing already aging or neglected infrastructure leaving roads and trails in disrepair, harming aquatic habitat, water quality and the communities that depend on forests for their water supplies,” said John Gale, Conservation Director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “BHA thanks Rep. Schrier and colleagues for introducing legislation that establishes the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation program – a critical investment in our public lands and waters. LRT will improve trails, replace culverts to restore fish passage, maintain and reclaim roads and secure uninterrupted habitat for species like elk, mule deer and trout.”
“Trout Unlimited applauds Representative Schrier for stepping up to reinstate the U.S. Forest Service’s Legacy Roads and Trails Program. The Forest Service’s massive system of roads and trails need to be maintained so they do not erode and degrade fish habitat, impair drinking water, and put downstream communities at risk. These problems are exacerbated by climate change, which brings on stronger and more unpredictable flood seasons,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The National Forests harbor some of the best trout and salmon habitat in the country, and Legacy Roads and Trails provides critical funding to ensure our headwater streams stay clean and cold. We’re looking forward to working with Rep. Schrier and our partners in the outdoor community to encourage Congress to reinstate this important Forest Service program.”
“Representative Schrier’s Legacy Roads and Trails bill provides a smart solution to reduce the harmful impacts of poorly maintained national forest roads on water quality and fish, while also providing much-needed jobs and economic benefits to rural communities,” said Megan Birzell, Washington State Director of the Wilderness Society.