Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Addressing Forest Road Maintenance

Earlier this year the president signed the American Recovery and Reninvestment Act more commonly known as the legislation providing economic stimulus funding. Over the past couple months a number of projects have been announced on National Forest lands in Washington State that address the region's massive road maintenance backlog. As the forest service road network continues to unravel the impacts are felt by both recreational users, who desire access to public lands, and aquatic resources, that feel the impact of all that sediment which ends up in the rivers. With limited agency budgets the Forest Service has been stuck reacting to the problem and has not had the resources to address some of the known issues before disaster strikes. There are many examples of undersized culverts, bridges that have outlived their design life, and drainage problems that sit as time bombs waiting for the next season of storms. Addressing some of these problems on the front end could result in reduced impacts when the storms do come resulting in fewer interruptions to public access and reduced impacts to aquatic resources.

An old road on the Mt. Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest with significant drainage and culvert issues that need to be addressed.

Earlier this year representatives from the Outdoor Alliance met with Forest Service leadership to highlight opportunities and present perspectives from the outdoor recreation community (both Access Fund and American Whitewater conducted membership surveys to identify areas of interest). We are now starting to see how the funding will be distributed to different projects.

Throughout the region of Washington and Oregon $9 million will go towards road maintenance including structure replacement, improved drainage, and culvert replacement all in the name of improving long term integrity of the road network in a manner that also addresses ongoing impacts to the aquatic resources that suffer from poorly maintained roads.

In the Puget Sound Region another $5.6 million will be directed towards deferred road maintenance and road decommissioning. These projects will focus on longstanding maintenance issues on key transportation corridors while removing roads that have served their social and economic purposes. Many old roads that have not been drivable for many years and are no longer needed continue to have ongoing impacts to aquatic resources.

On the Gifford Pinchot National Forest $4.9 in projects have been identified that focus on forest bridge design and replacement. Bridges that now provide important access for recreational users were constructed over 50 years and have outlived their design life. This project will address access issues to trailheads on this forest.

On the Olympic National Forest $4.5 million will be directed to watershed projects with a focus on the South Fork Skokomish and Sol Duc watersheds. The projects will include decommissioning some roads and upgrading others. Work will include replacements of failing culverts with appropriately sized bridges which will reduce the risk of collapse, improve vehicle and visitor safety, and insure continued access to many miles of existing forest roads.

In addition to these projects there will also be a project to replace the single pane windows at the Olympia Forestry Sciences lab and a series of projects to repair and restore facilities used by the public on the Olympic National Forest.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Congress to Discuss Full Funding of Land and Water Conservation Fund

The House Natural Resources Committee, the committee with jurisdiction over public lands, will be holding a hearings this week on a bill that would fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (HR 3534) at the authorized level of $900 million.

What is the Land and Water Conservation Fund?

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) was established in 1965 to meet the nation's growing desire to preserve natural areas, culturally and historically significant landmarks, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Federal Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing provides the revenue for LWCF--the concept is a simple one where extraction of resources we all use provides some revenue for important access and conservation projects on our nation's public lands. Unfortunately only a fraction of the intended revenue from these leases has gone into the fund with the balance being diverted to general funds for other purposes. In fact last year LWCF funding approached an all time low of $155 million. The proposed legislation in Congress would rectify this situation with full funding available each year, not subject to cuts in the annual appropriations process.

Why Is This Important For Outdoor Recreation?

If LWCF was fully funded, it would have a rather large positive and direct impact on organizations like The Mountaineers who depend on access to outdoor recreation and conservation of treasured landscapes on public lands. There would be 5 times the amount of federal money available to protect land and assure access to human-powered recreation. More trails, more river access, more crags, more backcountry skiing.

Since its creation, LWCF has made nearly 7 million acres of land available for outdoor recreation. The fund has helped to complete iconic American landscapes like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, the Appalachian Trail, and Grand Teton National Park and here at home the North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Olympic National Parks have all benefitted from this program. In addition the fund has established close-to-home parks and recreation facilities providing new and improved recreation opportunities for all Americans. Washington is home to over 500 successful local, regional, state, and federal projects. The Duwamish River Trail, Green River Gorge Conservation Area and associated State Parks, mature forest lands in the Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, lands along Icicle Creek in the Wenatchee National Forest, Green Lake Park, public access the White Salmon River, public shoreline access along Puget Sound, and Fort Worden State Park are just a few examples of public recreation lands in Washington that have received aid from LWCF.

Unfortunately the recent lack of funding has resulted in lost opportunities. In 2004 the State of Washington received only 5 percent of requested funds through the program and while we have enjoyed key successes, there have been a number of lost opportunities. For example key conservation opportunities along the White Salmon Wild and Scenic River were recently lost due to a lack of available LWCF.

Hearings this week by the House Natural Resources Committee are an important step towards realizing the full potential of this important program. Here in Washington State, Congressman Inslee is a key member of this committee and the the Mountaineers have joined other members of the outdoor recreation community in asking for the Congressman's leadership on this issue.