Murkowski: Maintenance Backlog Requires Comprehensive Fix
Long-Term Solutions Needed Across Four Federal Land Agencies
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today chaired a hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to examine deferred maintenance needs and potential solutions on federal lands administered by the three major land management agencies within the Department of the Interior—the National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service (FWS)—as well as the USDA Forest Service (FS).
Murkowski opened by acknowledging the magnitude of deferred maintenance problem.
“These four agencies face a combined deferred maintenance backlog totaling $19.4 billion, an overwhelming amount that covers everything from direct visitor experiences to projects that will never be noticed by the average family,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski noted that while the National Park Service and recreation are major drivers of the discussion over deferred maintenance, agency backlogs also impact the economic prosperity and public safety of nearby communities.
“In many cases, roads, bridges, wastewater systems, and other federal assets are intertwined with the needs of local communities,” Murkowski said. “Counties and boroughs have an obligation to ensure the safety of their citizens and the vitality of their local economy. And that means the infrastructure they share with their federal neighbor, which includes roads used by first responders, must be well-maintained.”
The Associate Chief of the Forest Service, Lenise Lago, testified to the important role of infrastructure for the National Forest System, stating that, “Infrastructure is the physical link between Americans and their public lands. It strengthens communities by giving them safe access to the many ecological, economic, and social amenities these lands provide…People depend on the Forest Service road network to get to schools, stores, hospitals, and homes. Perhaps most critically, forest infrastructure provides fire protection for communities.”
Liz Archuleta, a county supervisor from Coconino County, Arizona, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Counties, echoed Chairman Murkowski’s concerns, explaining that, “County governments, particularly in rural areas, are often first on the scene when a hiker is injured and must be rescued. When these access points fall into disrepair, it impacts the health and welfare of residents and public lands visitors,” Archuleta said.
The hearing featured testimony from a total of five witnesses representing a diverse group of stakeholders. In addition to witnesses from the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, the committee heard from the recreation industry, county governments, and advocates of public land stewardship.
Murkowski is chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. An archived video of today’s hearing can be found on the committee’s website. Click here and here to view Murkowski’s questions for the witnesses.