Forest access on federal lands is essential for recreation, timber management, firefighting and law enforcement. Unfortunately the federal government has continued its aggressive efforts to destroy or decommission thousands of miles of forest roads, jeopardizing forested communities and making it difficult to fight fires and restore forests back to health. This critical issue is finally getting some attention among our federal representatives.
On February 26 the U.S. House passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 2406), known as the SHARE Act. The bill includes dozens of provisions to promote hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities on federal lands. Yet many Americans in our forested communities understand the lack of transparency when the U.S. Forest Service closes public roads with no prior public notification. In response, Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) successfully attached an amendment to the SHARE Act requiring the agency to publish a notice in the Federal Register, along with a justification, for the closure of any public road in public forests.
National forest road funding is 27 percent below 2010 levels in unadjusted dollars. It would take an $85 million increase from the current spending level to restore the program to where it was in 2010. In the past the Forest Service generated revenues through timber management to pay for road maintenance and other programs. The steep decline in timber harvesting, and the subsequent increase in wildfire spending, has in part resulted in a $3 billion Forest Service maintenance backlog. To make things worse President Obama’s budget proposes a 13-percent decrease in national forest road maintenance funding.
There a number of ways Congress can reverse this dangerous trend. Our federal representatives should prioritize management of existing federal forests and address the maintenance backlog over any efforts to acquire more federal lands. For example, Congress can redirect Obama’s proposed $103 million increase in discretionary federal land acquisition, or direct the Forest Service to use higher-value timber sales to generate revenues for forest road maintenance.
The current annual harvest from the National Forests represents less than half the allowable sale quantity in existing forest plans. Increasing active forest management on federal lands will not only create jobs and improve forest health, it will ensure that all Americans can enjoy access on lands that belong to everyone.
Sportsmen’s Bill, Federal Budget Highlights Forest Access