2016 was a year of great opportunity and continuing challenges for the National Trails System. Here is a recap of the year and what we can expect moving forward.
The 114th Congress adjourned in early December after passing another Continuing Resolution to fund the Federal government agencies at the Fiscal Year 2016 levels until April 28, 2017. The appropriations for Fiscal Year 2017 are to be completed by the 115th Congress sometime this spring. The 114th Congress left this important work for the National Trails System unfinished:
- Re-authorization of the Land & Water Conservation Fund
- Re-authorization of the Historic Preservation Fund
- Re-authorization of the Federal Land Transfer Facilitation Act to authorize the Bureau of Land Management to sell surplus land and use the proceeds to buy lands to fill in management blocks in the several checkerboards of public/private land in the west
- A method for funding wildfire suppression costs that will relieve the annual operating budget of the Forest Service from bearing the majority of these costs
- Authorization of the several adjustments to the route of the North Country National Scenic Trail in Minnesota and extending into Vermont.
- The Parity Act for the Ice Age, New England, and North Country National Scenic Trails so that all six national scenic trails administered by the National Park Service will be treated as National Park Units. Currently the Appalachian, Natchez Trace, and Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trails are already administered as Park Units.
The Partnership for the National Trails System will work with many allies to get bills introduced in the 115th Congress to accomplish these important actions.
Congress did pass the National Forest Trails Stewardship Act. This act will strengthen and expand opportunities for volunteers to build and maintain trails on National Forests including National Scenic and Historic Trails.
The National Park Centennial Act was also passed, which provides additional funding support for projects within National Parks.
The US Forest Service issued a new chainsaw and crosscut saw policy, which authorizes a program of certification of volunteers and staff to be able to, once certified, use their sawyer skills on all National Forests in the United States.
The Bureau of Land Management created a new procedure for guiding resource management planning for public lands, which, among other things, increases the opportunity for interested stakeholder parties to participate in the early phases of land use planning on public lands.
Recently, the NPS issued Director’s Order 21 that provides new guidance for philanthropic work to facilitate more collaboration between park service staff and non-profit support organizations to raise funds and other support for projects, programs, and activities in national parks and along national trails.
In early February, President Barack Obama designated three National Monuments in California: the Mojave Trails National Monument, Sand to Snow National Monument, and Castle Mountains National Monument. Of these three, two protect portions of our National Trails System. Mojave Trails National Monument will protect portions of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. Sand to Snow National Monument will protect 30 miles of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
Furthermore, the president signed into law the National Forest Trails Stewardship Act (mentioned above).
We are hopeful for 2017 and the opportunities that lie ahead. Although we know there will be challenges, we are certain that together we can work to accomplish many things.