Then I came across an interesting news story about the federal government’s inability to manage trails in national forests. The story is based on a June 2013 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found:
The Forest Service has more miles of trail than it has been able to maintain, resulting in a persistent maintenance backlog with a range of negative effects. In fiscal year 2012, the agency reported that it accomplished at least some maintenance on about 37 percent of its 158,000 trail miles and that about one quarter of its trail miles met the agency’s standards. The Forest Service estimated the value of its trail maintenance backlog to be $314 million in fiscal year 2012, with an additional $210 million for annual maintenance, capital improvement, and operations. Trails not maintained to quality standards have a range of negative effects, such as inhibiting trail use and harming natural resources, and deferring maintenance can add to maintenance costs.
Any chance the government as currently organized will solve the problem? I doubt it. In my search for the June 2013 report I ran across this 1989 report from GAO on the very same topic. Said the GAO at the time:
(1) the Forest Service had a trail maintenance and reconstruction backlog of about $195 million, involving about 59,000 miles of trails; (2) 11 of the 121 forest units accounted for $91 million of the backlog costs; (3) funding fluctuations over the past decade resulted in a lack of Forest Service personnel and a declining pool of contractors and volunteers to keep the trails in good condition; (4) about 5,000 miles of trails were unusable because of deferred maintenance; (5) although the Forest Service annually reported the number of miles of trails maintained and constructed during the year, it neither routinely gathered data on maintenance and reconstruction needs or costs nor categorized needs by trail condition severity;
With the trail maintenance backlog growing (this is merely one indicator of the lack of management capacity), it would seem that Washington is institutionally incapable of maintaining its lands. Perhaps it is time to try a new approach?