They may not be able to agree on much, but on November 17, Congress agreed to make it easier for volunteers to help maintain trails on federal land when the Senate passed the National Forest Service Trail Stewardship Act of 2015 (H.R.845 S.1110), (passed earlier in the fall by the House). The bill directs the Forest Service to take several actions to help address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely impacting all trail users on many National Forests, including equestrians.

In the current fiscal environment it is unlikely Congress will appropriate additional funds to directly address the trail maintenance backlog. This bill will help improve trail maintenance without the need for additional funding as it specifically directs the Forest Service to develop a strategy to more effectively utilize volunteers and partners to assist in maintaining national forest trails. The bill will also address a liability issue that has discouraged some national forests from utilizing volunteers and partner organizations to help perform trail maintenance.

Additionally, the bill provides outfitters and guides the ability to perform trail maintenance activities in lieu of permit fees.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law before he leaves office.

The American Horse Council, Backcountry Horsemen of America, and the Wilderness Society were significantly involved in the creation and passage of this bill.