Congress is considering a new $65 million program to decommission roads the U.S. Forest Service either doesn’t want or didn’t authorize. The agency currently faces a $10 billion backlog of road maintenance needs, and has struggled for years to find the money to keep up its 400,000 miles of road that crisscross national forest land. The “Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Initiative” being considered by the U.S. House would set aside funding for road decommissioning, road and trail repair and maintenance, and the removal of fish barriers. The program is part of a bill that funds the Interior Department and Forest Service. It successfully passed the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month, and could be considered by the full House as early as this week. The Senate version of the bill includes language addressing the decommission issue. “This is the first time Congress would set aside money specifically for decommissioning roads,” said Bob Ekey, regional director of The Wilderness Society. “It’s a very important issue for the Northern Rockies. The Forest Service doesn’t have the funding to keep up with road maintenance. A lot of these roads just continue to bleed sediment into streams.” An estimated 25,000 miles of poor or unauthorized roads line the 13 national forests in the Forest Service’s Northern Region, which includes Montana, northern Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota. The Wilderness Society’s Joe Kerkvliet calls them “ticking time bombs,” saying without proper maintenance, forest roads can harm fish habitat and water quality by eroding into forest creeks and streams. “When a road starts falling apart, it begins to deliver tons of sediment into nearby streams,” he said. “Heavy rains or rain on snow can cause massive failures or landslides. These roads have the potential to create serious environmental damage.” The worst of such roads are labeled “level one” roads, Kerkvliet said. Regionally, there are about 19,000 miles of such roads. The latest Forest Service reports it maintains only about 30 percent of those, Kerkvliet said. There are also about 5,200 miles of unauthorized roads, which can include user-created trails or old logging roads. Decommissioning such roadways is expensive. The projected cost in the Northern Region is about $4,800 per mile, while the bill in California’s Redwood National Park runs somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000 per mile, Kerkvliet said. “My estimate is that for $1 million spent in this type of road work, there will be about eight jobs generated,” he said.