USDA investing $66 million in U.S. national forests, grasslands

March 20, 2024

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing almost $66 million for environmental health and public-accessibility projects in national forests and grasslands. Funded through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the money will flow to more than 100 projects in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

“These investments will ensure that millions of Americans can continue to enjoy clean water, world-class recreation, and more resilient transportation infrastructure across hundreds of communities in and around national forests and grasslands,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release.

Under the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land — an area about as large as the state of Texas. Not only are these lands a source of natural beauty for outdoor enthusiasts and habitats for countless plant and animal species, but forests and grasslands also help protect water supplies and mitigate extreme weather effects. They also provide natural carbon storage, pulling carbon dioxide out of the air to aid the fight against climate change.

More than $37 million will fund projects through the Forest Service initiative, the Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Program. The Forest Service manages hundreds of thousands of roads and trails across challenging terrain. These roads are often critical routes for evacuating natural disaster areas and fighting wildfires, and they cross sensitive plant and animal habitats.

The program’s goal is to restore roads and trails that have deteriorated in the elements while improving the natural environment. Road repairs have the added benefit of preserving water quality because sediment from crumbling roads can harm aquatic species. In their initial design, many road routes cut off stream flows, harming connectivity and health of the hydrologic system. In addition to general maintenance, the program includes projects to reroute and redesign entire sections of roads and trails.

Alaska will see major investments for roads and trails in the Chugach and Tongass national forests. Funds will help fortify roads and trails, divert water flows to prevent a campground from flooding and construct “aquatic organism passages” that will help aquatic life travel up and down the network of rivers and streams.

“This work is critical as we continue to see the devastating effects from extreme climate events. By moving and repairing roads and trails, we are reducing potential impacts of flooding – ensuring access and water quality is preserved, especially in emergency situations,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore.

The remaining $28.1 million provides funds to the Collaborative Aquatic Landscape Restoration Program that the Forest Service oversees. The program funds projects that preserve clean water sources by rebuilding and strengthening historic wetlands and river networks.

A project in Colorado slated to receive $5 million through 2026 will rebuild 6.8 miles of stream and 120 acres of wetlands that were destroyed to make way for the World War II era Camp Hale training facility. Located within the recently established Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument, the aquatic restoration plan will also preserve much of the historic camp.

Photo courtesy of the Forest Service

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