Background      Threats to Roadless Areas
    Background Main

Roads on steep hillsides greatly contribute to erosion and habitat fragmentation.   Photo courtesy of
Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project


Threats to Roadless Areas
Roads facilitate motor vehicle use, which fragments habitat and deposits air, water, and soil pollution, noise, and noxious weeds. These factors degrade and destroy primitive values such as effective habitat for many wildlife species, including that for sensitive and big game species. Roads bring erosion and sedimentation of water bodies, scarring sensitive landscapes and muddying clear mountain streams. Roaded and heavily-logged landscapes are often more susceptible to wildfires, which can threaten communities. To protect the characteristics that are integral to the unique heritage and extraordinary lifestyle treasured by Colorado’s citizens, the conservation of our remaining roadless landscapes is essential.

Roads are extremely damaging to the pristine streams and wetlands in Colorado’s National Forests, and reductions in water quality at the headwaters affects all downstream users. Mining, logging, oil and gas development projects, and irresponsible vehicle use — and the roads that accompany these activities — have wide-ranging effects, damaging critical wildlife habitat and disrupting natural forest processes.

  • Sedimentation caused by roads is extremely harmful to wildlife. “Poorly designed logging roads, for example, can increase sediment levels severely enough to kill aquatic insects, fish, and fish eggs and may be prone to severe landslides...which can completely destroy aquatic habitat.”3

  • Oil and gasoline run-off from motorized vehicles harms wildlife that swim in and drink from formerly clear mountain streams, as well as potentially contaminating drinking water used by downstream municipalities.

  • Roads themselves affect the natural course of streams, disrupting natural processes and wildlife. Roads also provide easier access to sensitive areas such as wetlands, increasing erosion, loss of vegetation, and the presence of invasive species.

    Erosion damage to a stream in the Gunnison
    National Forest
    Photo courtesy of Southern
    Rockies Ecosystem Project

  • Roads fragment habitat, which breaks “large tracts of livable land into small, largely uninhabitable islands.”4 Some native species can only thrive in large areas of roadless wilderness — to carve up these undisturbed tracts with roads is to chip away at this critical habitat, and push sensitive species even closer to the brink of extinction.

  • Colorado’s National Forests are home to 23 proposed, threatened, and endangered species, including the bald eagle, the Canada lynx, and the greenback cutthroat trout.5 Roads — and the pollution, noise, and habitat destruction that comes withs them — force animals further into the shrinking backcountry.

  • The Pew Environment Group released the a report Leasing Colorado's Legacy (pdf) discussing the threats from additional oil and gas drilling on roadless areas in Colorado.

Additional Maps

Roadless Rule Categorization 

Management Prescriptions

Acres Within a Mile of a Road

More Maps

3 Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project, The State of the Southern Rockies Ecoregion, 2004

4 Environment Colorado Research and Policy Center, Our Natural Legacy: The value of America’s Roadless National Forests, 2004

5 USDA Forest Service, Proposed, Threatened and Endangered Species National master List By Region and Species Group, February 2001