Taming Oregon's Backlog of Aging Forest Roads

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For more information about a current project proposing to decommission 223 miles of roads in Mt. Hood National Forest, visit http://bark-out.org/topic.php?id=collawash

PORTLAND, Ore. - Thousands of miles of roads crisscross the Oregon backcountry, where washouts and slides are common. Bad roads affect water quality and fish habitat, as well as make access difficult for recreational uses. But a record $19 million is coming to the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon and Washington to change that, through the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation program. The 2010 road and trail maintenance budget is double the amount the Northwest states normally receive.

Mary Scurlock, policy director with the Pacific Rivers Council, says the goals in Oregon will be to decommission unnecessary roads and fix the rest using modern techniques that are better for the environment. "What we would like to do is reduce the number of road miles that we have, and have those road miles be - to the greatest extent possible - self-maintaining, so they don't cost the taxpayers money and we don't have ongoing threats and harm to aquatic habitat." She says repairing and reclaiming old roads also will bring hundreds of jobs to people in rural communities.

According to the Forest Service, contracts will be put out for bid this spring and the work should begin this summer. Northwest conservation groups have been working with the federal agency to prioritize the projects. Scurlock says it will require an ongoing financial commitment to stabilize a road and trail system that has been neglected for many years. "We basically have about twice as many roads as what we actually need, and every road that we have creates a legal and a financial liability, because of the need to maintain it and the need to prevent environmental harm from that road."

Oregon has 69,000 miles of national forest roads. The Forest Service estimates that nationwide, 1 million miles of road maintenance has been put off because of budget shortfalls. Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR