National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act

Volunteers to be at the core of trail maintenance in National Forests.

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National News
by Meshach M.

On February 10, 2015 the H.R.845 National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act was introduced to the House of Representatives. The bill proposed new volunteer participation be enacted in the national parks to maintain paths and trails. On February 27, and March 16, of 2015 the bill was referred to the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry as the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, respectively.  On September 14, 2016 the Agriculture Subcommittee marked up the bill and on September 20, the Natural Resources Subcommittee discharged it. The bill was reported on Congress on September 20, 2016.

The “Natural Forest System Trails Stewardship Act” is a bill that purposes volunteers clear National Parks Trails and thereby assist with the $314 million backlog in terms of trail maintenance due to the lack of federal funding. The bill “aim[s] to increase trail maintenance by volunteers and partners by 100% within 5 years”[1] and in doing so provide promoted and easy access volunteer opportunities. The bill would also amend section 3 of the Volunteers in the Nation Forest Act of 1972 by redefining the term “volunteer” to include a person who is providing volunteer services to the Secretary of Agriculture.

H.R.845 will require the Secretary of Agriculture to select between nine and fifteen initial sites for the trail maintenance to begin. Within six months of these selections the Secretary would be required to expand these efforts by considering public opinion, the need for maintenance and the interests of any incorporated partners as well as the volunteers. The Secretary of Agriculture must enter cooperative agreements with any of the state, local, or tribal governments where the trail maintenance will take place.

According to the congressional budget office it will cost approximately $3 million a year to recruit the necessary number of volunteers required by the bill. It will also cost between $100,000 and $50,000 per year to cover the mandatory spending of workers compensation for the volunteers. However, it is estimated that the bill will give the Forest Service the authority to reappropriate less than $200,000 per year because “enacting that provision would reduce offsetting receipts, which are treated as reductions in direct spending”.[2] This would not reduce the spending of the national government.

On November 28, 2016 the bill was signed by President Obama and has become law.

[1] “Summary: H.R.845 – 114th Congress (2015-2016),” Congress, last modified 2016, accessed November 29, 2016, https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/845.
[2] “H.R. 845, National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act,” Congressional Budget Office, last modified September 14, 2016, https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52037.