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U.S. Forest Service

Legacy Roads and Trails Program Overview

Forest Service employee performing road condition survey.
Forest Service employee performing road condition survey.

The Forest Service Legacy Roads and Trail Remediation program was authorized and funded in 2008. Its purpose is to direct work towards urgently needed road decommissioning, road and trail repair and maintenance, and removal of fish passage barriers. The program emphasizes areas where Forest Service roads may be contributing to water quality problems in streams and water bodies that support threatened, endangered, and sensitive species or community water sources. The program has provided $300 million from 2008 to 2012 to the U.S. Forest Service to perform this range of important roads and trails work across the National Forest System.

The transportation system on National Forest System (NFS) lands was primarily built over the last 60 years to access timber on public lands. This roads system now receives significant use for recreational activities, in addition to providing access for forest management (including timber harvest), fire management, and access for other uses, such as communication sites and range administration. The Legacy Roads and Trails Restoration program was established primarily by the Washington Watershed Restoration Coalition working with Congress to address the needs of this large transportation system and the chronic underfunding for road and trail maintenance on National Forest System lands.

Road remediation with heavy machinery.
Road remediation with heavy machinery, Lolo National Forest, Montana.

The Forest Service has over 375,000 miles of roads that occur within a variety of ecological settings and varied geological parent rock, which results in roads being built in many soil types and locations. Roads that were built near streams or wetlands, or on sensitive soils or steep slopes, often need to be relocated or obliterated. If a decision is made to keep the road on the landscape, greater maintenance and investment of funds are required to reduce impacts to water quality, fisheries and wildlife, including impacts such as sedimentation and habitat fragmentation.

The number of miles of new roads being built on NFS lands has dropped significantly since the early 1990s, while the quality of new or relocated roads and road segments (e.g. location and drainage features) has increased, resulting in less environmental impacts on-the-ground. The current road network still includes older roads built to lower environmental standards. There is a significant backlog of maintenance and decommissioning needs, additional roads built to improved standards requiring periodic maintenance, and user-created roads needing to be addressed through transportation planning or removal.

Decommissioned road in forest, displaying removed road surface and revegetation.
Decommissioned roadway.

Funding for Legacy Roads and Trails Restoration grew from the initial $40 million in 2008 to $50 million in FY2009, $90 million in FY 2010, and $45 million in FY 2011. When the Forest Service received authority for Integrated Resource Restoration in FY 2012, the funds for Legacy Roads and Trails (at $50 million) were partially utilized to support the Integrated Resource Restoration pilot program in Regions 1, 3, and 4. With the funding appropriated by Congress between 2008 and 2012, the amount of work completed for Legacy Roads and Trails has been significant at over 11,000 miles of trails improved, over 500 fish passage sites upgraded, and over 5,000 miles of roads addressed through decommissioning or maintenance.

Road-stream crossings may be funded through the Legacy Roads and Trails program, and more detailed information about objectives, design and accomplishments are available under restoration for Aquatic Organism Passage.