Forest Service backs off trail maintenance cuts

by Michael Wright – Bozeman Daily Chronicle

The U.S. Forest Service is walking back funding cuts for trail maintenance in its northern region – preventing what would have been a cut of about $1 million across national forests in Montana.

Originally the agency was going to cut trail budgets for Region One by 10 percent per year over the next three years. Now the Forest Service has decided against the cuts for this year, at least.

This decision comes after Montana’s U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines criticized the plan, which was part of a larger budget restructuring for the agency.

Tester wrote a letter to Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell earlier this month urging him to reconsider, and Daines asked Tidwell to look at it again in a committee hearing earlier this month.

Both celebrated the news in separate statements issued Friday.

“These trails are critically important to our outdoor economy, and restoring these damaging cuts will allow folks to continue to explore Big Sky Country,” Tester said in a statement

“This is a welcome step to see the Forest Service value Montanans’ feedback, and I will continue to press the Forest Service for strong trail budgets each and every year,” Daines said in a statement.

That change was the result of a shakeup in how the agency allocated trail money. A new formula put greater emphasis on how much use a trail gets, which benefitted more densely populated areas. The old formula gave out money based on miles of trails. Montana has a lot of trails, but fewer people.

Officials aren’t sure what it means locally yet. The earlier plan would have resulted in a cut of about $90,000 for the Custer Gallatin National Forest’s trail budget for the next year.