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Press Release of Senator Cantwell

Cantwell Urges Fix for Deteriorating Forest Service Roads

Backlog Grows by $8m Yearly - Without Fix, Maintenance Backlog Will Grow Out of Control - Harming Drinking Water, Watersheds, and Wildlife

Friday, November 09,2007


WASHINGTON, DC – Friday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) led a group of her colleagues in a letter to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, asking her to support the inclusion of $65 million of forest service road maintenance in the 2008 Interior Appropriations Bill. The funding will enable the Forest Service to tackle the estimated $10 billion backlog of road maintenance in the existing road system, which is harming America’s drinking water, watersheds and wildlife. Cantwell was joined in the letter by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Russ Feingold (D-WI). Cantwell is seeking Senate support for Congressman Norm Dicks’ (D-WA) similar actions as Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
 
“This ballooning maintenance backlog grows every year, blocking access to our public lands, causing environmental damage, and degrading our water supply," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. "Right now, we spend about $3 million annually on road maintenance in our state's National Forests, but the backlog jumps by $8 million each year. We need to get this under control. At the same time the Forest Service lets the backlog grow, they ask for permission to build additional roads that will only exacerbate the problem. That’s fiscally irresponsible, not to mention ecological unsound. It's time to end years of underfunding and neglect, and get this backlog under control.”
 
The Forest Service is responsible for managing 380,000 miles of roads nationally, but because of inadequate funding and neglect, many of these roads are deteriorating and causing serious damage. The president’s budget proposes a 31 percent cut in Forest Service road maintenance, and a 55 percent decrease in road decommissioning.  Washington State has a large backlog of washed out roads on Forest Service lands, and the creation of this national program is expected to have a substantial impact there next year and in coming years.
 
In their letter, the senators wrote that “Failing to deal with the problem of deteriorating Forest Service roads is an extremely short-sighted policy that is causing serious environmental and economic harm.  Watershed restoration is a sound economic investment that will create high-skill, family-wage jobs and bolster rural economies.  A national program of $65 million per year to address the Forest Service roads maintenance backlog could provide more than 940 direct jobs in rural communities, in addition to other related planning and service jobs.”
Cantwell has long emphasized the need to address the pressing maintenance backlog on America’s public lands, including our National Parks and National Forests.  In June, Cantwell and other members of the Washington state delegation wrote to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns urging him to develop a plan to improve maintenance of the many deteriorating U.S. Forest Service roads in Washington state. In Washington state, the Forest Service is responsible for managing over 22,000 miles of roads and over $300 million will be needed to address the environmental impacts of deteriorating roads, including replacing culverts and decommissioning old roads.
 
 
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[The text of the letter follows below]
November 9, 2007
 
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Chairman, Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations
331 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
 
Dear Chairman Feinstein: 
 
As we work to finalize the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill proceeds, we urge you to support increased funding to reduce the impacts of deteriorating U.S. Forest Service roads on our watersheds, wildlife, and drinking water.  Specifically, we urge you to provide $65 million in funding to address the problem of deteriorating Forest Service roads. 
 
We are very concerned about the decline in the health of National Forest watersheds due to the poor condition of Forest Service roads.  As you may know, the Forest Service is responsible for managing 380,000 miles of roads nationally.  Due to inadequate funding and neglect, many of these roads are deteriorating and causing serious environmental damage.
 
National Forests provide the majority of the nation’s premier trout and salmon habitat, as well as drinking water for more than 60 million people.  However, neglected Forest Service roads are jeopardizing state and federal efforts to restore habitat for endangered fish and improve water quality for many communities.  Impassable roads also diminish access to trailheads and the outstanding recreational opportunities that millions of Americans seek in our National Forests.
 
The Forest Service estimates that it has a multi-billion dollar backlog in deferred road maintenance nationwide.   The Forest Service’s own estimates find a $4.5 billion backlog in roads maintenance on National Forest lands.  However, this value is more accurately close to $10 billion, according to independent research by Taxpayers for Common Sense. Unfortunately, the Administration’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2008 will significantly worsen the problem of Forest Service roads.  Nationally, the budget proposes a 31 percent cut in Forest Service road maintenance, and a 55 percent decrease in road decommissioning.  Road decommissioning and removal activities are critical to improving stream quality by decreasing the erosion of unneeded roads.
 
Failing to deal with the problem of deteriorating Forest Service roads is an extremely short-sighted policy that is causing serious environmental and economic harm.  Watershed restoration is a sound economic investment that will create high-skill, family-wage jobs and bolster rural economies.  A national program of $65 million per year to address the Forest Service roads maintenance backlog could provide more than 940 direct jobs in rural communities, in addition to other related planning and service jobs.   Further, fixing existing Forest Service roads will help to make our watersheds more resilient to the anticipated effects of climate change such as extreme storm events.
 
We ask that you support this important measure to provide $65 million to the Forest Service nationwide to accomplish urgently needed road decommissioning, maintenance, and other treatments to reduce the impact of old Forest Service roads.  Increased funding to address the Forest Service roads maintenance backlog will appropriately give special attention to protecting streams that support endangered fish species and supply water to communities. 
 
Thank you for your consideration of this important request. 
 
Sincerely,  
 
 
 
 
Sincerely,
 
Maria Cantwell, Bingaman, Ron Wyden, Ken Salazar and Russ Feingold