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H.R. 845: National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act

 

National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (H.R. 845) has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.  The bi-partisan supported legislation now heads to the the desk of President Obama for his signature in the last step to become law.

 

This bill directs the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to publish a national strategy to significantly increase the role of volunteers and partners in trail maintenance.

 

The strategy shall:

augment and support the capabilities of federal employees to carry out or contribute to trail maintenance; provide opportunities for volunteers and partners to carry out trail maintenance in each region of the Forest Service; address the barriers to increased volunteerism and partnerships; prioritize increased volunteerism and partnerships in those regions with the most severe trail maintenance needs, and where backlogs are jeopardizing access to national forest lands; and aim to increase trail maintenance by volunteers and partners by 100% within 5 years. As a component of the strategy, USDA shall study opportunities to improve trail maintenance by addressing opportunities to use fire crews in trail maintenance activities that do not jeopardize firefighting capabilities, public safety, or resource protection. Upon a determination that trail maintenance would be advanced by the use of fire crews, USDA shall incorporate these proposals into the strategy.

 

The Volunteers in the National Forest Act of 1972 is amended, for purposes of certain provisions relating to the employment status of volunteers in the National Forests Program, to include as a volunteer a person providing volunteer services to USDA who is recruited, trained, and supported by a cooperator under a mutual benefit agreement with the USDA.

 

Such a volunteer also performs such volunteer services under the cooperator's supervision as directed by the USDA in such agreement, including direction that specifies:

 

the volunteer services to be performed by the volunteers and the supervision to be provided by the cooperator; the project safety standards and protocols to be adhered to by the volunteers and enforced by the cooperator; and the on-site visits to be made by USDA, when feasible, to verify that volunteers are performing the volunteer services and the cooperator is providing the supervision agreed upon. USDA shall adopt regulations for the implementation of this section. Such regulations shall ensure that the financial risk from claims or liability associated with volunteers who undertake trail maintenance is shared by all administrative units.

 

USDA shall report on:

 

the effectiveness of the strategy in addressing the trail maintenance backlog; the increase in volunteerism and partnership efforts on trail maintenance as a result of the strategy; the miles of National Forest System trails maintained by volunteers and partners, and the approximate value of volunteer and partnership efforts; the status of the stewardship credits for the outfitters and guides pilot program established by this bill; and recommendations for further increasing volunteerism and partnerships in trail maintenance. (Sec. 5) USDA shall select at least 9 and no more than 15 priority areas for increased trail maintenance accomplishments.

 

Priority areas shall include a well-defined region on National Forest System land where the lack of trail maintenance has:

 

reduced access to public land; led to an increase, or risk of increase, in harm to natural resources; jeopardized public safety; resulted in trails being impassible by the intended managed users; or increased future deferred trail maintenance costs. In selecting priority areas, USDA shall:

 

consider any public input received on such areas within three months of enactment of this bill; consider the range of trail users, including motorized and non-motorized trail users; and include at least one such area in each region of the Forest Service. Within six months of the selection of the priority areas, USDA shall develop an approach to substantially increase trail maintenance accomplishments within each area.

 

In developing such an approach, USDA shall:

 

consider any public input received on trail maintenance priorities and needs within the priority area; consider the costs and benefits of increased trail maintenance within the priority area; and incorporate partners and volunteers in the trail's maintenance. In utilizing such an approach, USDA shall substantially increase trail maintenance within each of the priority areas.

 

Regional volunteer and partnership coordinators may be responsible in assisting partner organizations in the development and implementation of volunteer and partnership projects to increase trail maintenance within the priority areas.

 

USDA shall, in its sole discretion, periodically review the priority areas to determine whether revisions are necessary and may revise such areas, including by the selection of new areas or the removal of existing areas.

 

(Sec. 6) USDA may enter into cooperative agreements with any state, tribal, local governmental, and private entities to carry out this bill.

 

A cooperative agreement authorized under this section may:

 

improve trail maintenance in a priority area, implement the strategy, or advance trail maintenance as deemed appropriate by the USDA. (Sec. 7) USDA shall establish a pilot program on at least 20 administrative units to offset all or part of the land use fee for an outfitting and guiding permit by the cost of the work performed by the permit holder for the construction, improvement, or maintenance of National Forest System trails, trailheads, or developed sites that support public use.

 

In establishing the pilot program, USDA shall:

 

select administrative units where the pilot program will improve trail maintenance; and establish appropriate terms and conditions, including those meeting the National Quality Standards for Trails and the Trail Management Objectives identified for the trail.

 

Read more at: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr845

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