The U.S. Forest Service and its many partners are building better culverts to open waterways for fish to grow, reproduce and survive, to improve the resiliency of roads to flooding, and to protect transportation infrastructure for communities

Chief Tidwell February 24, 2016

As you might know, the National Forest System is huge. It covers 193 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The USDA Forest Service is responsible for managing an area almost twice the size of California. This vast area has over 375,000 miles of road and over 200,000 miles of stream, and it comes as no surprise that our roads and our streams intersect quite a bit. In fact, the Forest Service manages at least 40,000 stream crossings for roads.

Many of these crossings are in spectacular settings that are also quite steep and prone to storms, flooding, and erosion. The results can be disastrous for animals that depend on our crossings to move up and down streams. If the crossings are too small or eroded and the passage blocked, miles and miles of vital habitat are lost.

These animals include many different kinds of fish, such as salmon, trout, salamanders, frogs, and crayfish. All these animals are vital to the health and well-being of our aquatic ecosystems. Without them, part of our natural heritage as Americans is lost.

And that is what this program to build better culverts and stream crossings is so vitally important. It is about restoring degraded habitats and ecosystems and protecting our natural heritage. It is about restoring the ecological integrity of our streams for all the benefits that people get from them, including pure, clean water as well as jobs and economic opportunity.

Since the Legacy Roads and Trails Program began in 2008, the U.S. Forest Service has completed 1,049 Aquatic Organism Passage Projects. We have restored 1,671 miles of stream habitat at a cost of $105 million. That includes $14 million in funding from our partners. These are investments in America’s future—in resiliency from floods, in resiliency from the effects of a changing climate.

These investments are a triple win … a win for the environment by restoring habitat and improving water quality … a win for the Forest Service by making smart fixes now rather than costlier fixes later on … and a win for local communities that depend on transportation links for emergency services, schools, work, and outdoor recreation. These are also investments in America’s economy. Local contractors benefit from projects in the woods. Fisheries improve, leading to more fishing opportunities and drawing more recreational visitors. Better and more enduring road crossings support all kinds of local economic opportunities.
So the U.S. Forest Service is proud that we have reached this milestone, and are particularly thankful for the more than 200 partners who have helped us in what is only the beginning in an investment in the future.

Chief Tidwell at the Dirksen Senate building a host of partners and congressional staffers on the Celebrating 1,000 Culverts event hosted by Trout Unlimited, The Wilderness Society and Wild Earth Guardians on February 24, 2016

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