USFS Road Maintenance

Folks, I’ve been working on an essay about US Forest Service roads that are in need of repairs and maintenance, and how a modest increase in timber sales could pay for such work. Indeed, such work is much needed, at least on the forests I’ve visited recently. The photo below is my son, Stewart (6-foot-7) next to a pothole on a heavily used USFS road on the Mt. Hood NF. This is not a new pothole. Someone, maybe an agency person, maybe a member of the public, painted white brackets on the pavement as a warning — as the previously painted warning had faded. So this pothole is years old. It is by no means the largest pothole I’ve encountered on paved roads here. Recreation on the Mt. Hood NF is huge, but some of the roads that serve those visitors are in poor shape.

Pothole on USFS Road

According to the fy2016 budget justification, “The FY 2016 President’s Budget proposes $154,262,000 for the Roads program, a decrease of $13,832,000 from the FY 2015 Enacted level.” The 2014 enacted level was $166 million. It seems unlikely that an increase in funding will come from Congress.

The essay will be for The Forestry Source in the next few months.  I’d like to hear about the situation on the National Forest(s) you visit. Is the forest in question is doing a good job with its limited road funding dollars? What do you think of the idea of establishing a “roads trust fund” on each forest and setting annual harvest targets for the fund? Or is there a better way to provide an adequate level of road-maintenance funding? If you’d like to pass along your comments for the article, send them to me at [email protected], and let me know if it is OK to publish them. Same with photos: pictures of potholes and other maintenance needs — or roads in good repair — are welcome. I’d like to hear from folks inside and outside of the agency.

Steve Wilent
Editor, The Forestry Source
The Society of American Foresters (



14 thoughts on “USFS Road Maintenance”

  1. I would bet that the vast majority of recreational users of these roads would put up with a few potholes, even really big ones like this, if it means curbing the cut on and around Mt. Hood.

    • Jerry, for what is may be worth: The cut is very low since the NW Forest Plan went into effect on the Mt. Hood, which was declared by a former forest supervisor to be a “recreation forest.” The Mt. Hood gets. something like 4.5 million visitors per year. I bet they’d be OK with restoring some of that former harvest level to pay for a smooth ride to the slopes, trails, campgrounds, etc.

  2. The situation in the Sierra Nevada is troubling. Without timber sales, roads do not get maintained. Road maintenance cannot be charged to vegetation management “Service Contracts”, either. How many years can roads go without being maintained? Will they have to gate roads that become impassable, due to washouts, failed erosion control structures and plugged culverts? Maybe they should close the ones that get the most current use ( roads to recreation sites ) ?

  3. The area around our cabins was involved in a forest thinning project, in Wenatchee NF in Washington State. The main FS access road # 9712 was virtually destroyed by the logging trucks, including one spot where a wash out is cutting into the road surface. The FS says they have no funds for repairs, and that they lost money on the timber sale. So I guess my question is how will more logging help?

    • The logging company is usually responsible for restoring the road to “pre-haul conditions”, when they don’t use it much. If they impacted it so bad, as you said, they should have been required to restore it to “new” condition, meeting the specifications in the project’s contract.

      • Actually, it is the “Purchaser’s” responsibility, ultimately. In the past, if I received some obnoxious resistance to doing necessary work, it was easy enough to defuse the situation by saying, “OK, you don’t have to do it. We’ll see who the Purchaser wants to do the work”. That always got results, for me. *smirk*

  4. Maintenance of a road for haul is a minor component compared to new road construction. It appears instead the USFS wants less to maintain, less to do, fewer visitors, fewer trees cut. I thought we had it bad on the Flathead until I went over on the Front side of the L and C (prior to the wilderness designation in the Cromnibus). I have never, ever seen roads in such terrible shape. Main roads. For miles. Awful. I’d be amazed if there’d been a grader or a cat out there any time in the past five years, except to plow snow for the little ski hill west of Choteau.
    Logging? Forget it there, as so much has burnt and now with the CMA psuedo-wilderness designation, there won’t be a stick ever.
    The Forest Service could produce wood and cash, if Congress ever lets it. The laws are a wreck, the Greens like it that way.

  5. For a fairly small amount of money each district could have a road crew to help keep roads maintained. Maybe even the biologists could do it. I think it would help them stay in touch with the environment.
    Every timber sale we have had of any size we have had to do substantial road work, before and after hauling logs.
    I watched them up on the Willamette use fire money to destroy roads so you couldn’t access the brunt timber and to reduce access to the forest.
    I think most of the forests are currently doing a road travel study, which seems to be a cover for a road closure study. We are going to see more road closures and less access to the forest. The greens do indeed like it that way.
    Anyone who has been involved with any planning for any timber project on our public forests knows the months if not years of work that goes into it trying to adhere to the rules and satisfy the environmental community.

  6. It might be interesting to compare USFS roads with “state lands.” There are some fairly large contiguous state forests. I’m thinking Stillwater in Montana, or Idaho Dept. Lands combined with Potlach private lands east of Priest lake or east of Orofino. Washington has a bunch. Of course, the logger gets to pay for all of the road development costs…in addition to the stumpage for the timber. Montana state timber sales always have a “road maintenance and blading” category that touches up the gravel “haul roads”…you know, the same roads that lead to that favorite wilderness trailhead. IDL sales always work in “culvert replacement”…and in many cases the term “fish barrier” is given as the reason…get it.

    The worse Forest Development Road (FDR) I’ve ever drove on was along the west shore of Hungry Horse Reservoir on the Flathead in Montana. It was so “washboarded” you either had to drive 5 MPH or 50 MPH…if you get my drift LOL. Now that Judge Christensen “ruled in favor of the defendant” (USFS) on the Soldier II and Spotted Bear projects…which both require “blading of haul routes,” I have a feeling the journey for wilderness enthusiasts accessing the Bob Marshall will soon get much smoother.

    • Yeah, Derek, and that ties in to the four flipping years the Soldier projects have been tied up. Actually, the EAST shore road is generally worse than the west side. But they both skunk. The only time they are worth a darn is early on after the first blade hits the ground and before it all dusts up. Sometimes there’s another swipe in the late fall and another chance to keep the parts attached to the vehicle.
      Every once in a while, there’s a need (never a desire) to head up past the dam during the summer. Always coated and frazzled afterwards. Might get up there at O Dark which isn’t too bad, but coming back to town is always a choker.

  7. The truth is that if you make an effort to find the major concerns the public has with Forest Service management, you find that the lack of road maintenance is, and has been a priority issue for the past 25 years. Actually, a few years back the Forest Service was responsible for the maintenance of more miles of roads then any other agency or organization in the U.S., and yes, most of those miles were constructed by trading stump-age for construction costs. The problem however, is much larger than a lack of money! First, the cost of maintenance is extremely high due to the fact that much of our National Forest System lands are located in climate conditions that severely limit the time available to complete the work load. Investments in heavy equipment for road maintenance must be amortized over shorter periods of time due to climatic conditions. Coupled with this situation, we provide travel time for operators thereby reducing the hours of operation each day. Equipment needs to be double-shifted to make it pay and scheduling some form of sharing of equipment between units needs to be developed. Contracting may offer some opportunities and considering other adjasted government and private

  8. Some thing interrupted my comments.
    Contracting may offer some opportunities as well as working with adjacent agencies and road maintenance units.
    One of my major concerns is that the engineering organization structure within the Forest Service has gotten far to large at the National and Regional level, thereby using up to much in over-head costs and leaving little for on the ground accomplishments. The concept of centralized specialization has created a bureaucracy that is exacerbating the problem of improved road maintenance. Simply, finding funds to conduct road maintenance will not, necessarily resolve the issue. SORRY FOR THE INTERRUPTION.

  9. I was a “dirt road” FS engineer for 35 years, and yes timber harvest does provide road maintenance. The Forest I worked on in Idaho collected surface rock replacement and deferred maintenance money for haul on FS roads. Road contracts were included in the timber sale contract that upgraded and replaced drainage structures. Secondary roads were reconstructed to reduce future maintenance costs by adding armored dips, spot rocking, and out-sloping where needed. Fish passage barriers were replaced. Graveling was included on the collector roads. Some of the recent stewardship contracts allowed for spending receipts on roads that were not used for hauling logs within the project area.

    Since the major decline in timber harvest on the forest the roads deteriorated due to lack of maintenance. However recent timber harvest projects (thinning and fuels reduction) have been emphasizing road maintenance. Forests can not just rely on the usual road maintenance funding to meet their needs. We would actively pursue other funding opportunities such as Burn Area Emergency Funding (BAER) to upgrade culverts that were undersized for post fire flood flows, Stimulus funding, collaboration funding and other opportunities. Road maintenance projects often require little to no NEPA. Often the other sources funding want a quick turn around and see progress on the ground rather than a NEPA analysis. This was the case with stimulus funding.


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