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Bill calls for using volunteers to maintain national forest trails

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The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) would have to come up with new and better ways to use volunteers to maintain its 158,000 miles of trails under new legislation. Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wy.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) introduced the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act of 2014 (H.R. 4886). The bill became available online on the congressional website on Tuesday, June 24. It was referred to the committees on Agriculture and Natural Resources. No other members have signed on as cosponsors.

The bill would give USFS two years to come up with a formal plan and publish it in the Federal Register that would increase the use of volunteers in trail maintenance. USFS would get five years to double the number of volunteers used. The project would also involve studying the use of firefighters in trail maintenance, as long as the work does not interfere with fire safety. USFS would get three years to file a report to Congress on addressing the trail maintenance backlog, how well the plan is going and what other steps need to be taken.

USFS would also get six months under the bill to choose between nine and 15 priority areas for trail maintenance. The list would have to include at least one area in each of its regions. The projects would have to include volunteers and partner organizations. The act would allow USFS to enter into cooperative agreements with state, tribal and local governments to achieve its goals.

Another provision deals with the concern of liability should volunteers get injured on the job. It would require volunteer and partner coordination plans defining who is responsible for what in each unit and ensure coordination among partner agencies.

Several user groups endorsed the effort, including the American Motorcyclist Association, American Outdoors Association, Back Country Horsemen of America, American Horse Council and the Wilderness Society.

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