Background      The Value of Roadless Areas
    Background Main

Towering Ponderosa pine in the San Juan National Forest.  
San Juan Citizens Alliance

Colorado’s Watersheds, Wildlife, and Recreational Opportunities
Colorado’s roadless areas are the source of most of the state’s municipal watersheds, providing clean and safe water to Colorado residents. They include important habitat for wildlife — both at-risk species that depend on large tracts of unbroken habitat and the big game animals like elk and deer so important to Colorado’s traditional sporting lifestyle and economy. They provide the setting and backdrop for recreational opportunities of all kinds, including the state’s world-class skiing, hunting and fishing, and backcountry trekking destinations. Forests without roads provide space for the work of professional outfitters, whose clients enjoy the rare pleasure of traveling through unspoiled terrain on horseback or on foot. Roadless areas offer resources that help support Colorado’s ranching legacy, as well.

  • Water is used by anglers to fish, ranchers to maintain livestock, and citizens everywhere to drink. Many of the streams favored by anglers cross roadless areas; many more flow directly from them. All gain their high quality from the stable soils and stream channels in those natural areas.

  • More than one-third of inventoried roadless areas in national forests are adjacent to federal conservation units—places like National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, and Wilderness areas. Preservation of remaining roadless areas will increase the ability of conservation lands to support wildlife and the natural processes important to them.

A trio of hikers enjoys a roadless area
in the Uncompahgre National Forest
Western Resource Advocates

Healthy Forests, Healthy Economy
While locals and tourists alike enjoy our National Forests — and the core of roadless areas within them — for their aesthetic, recreational, practical, and vocational opportunities, these uses have an important common thread: together, they comprise the foundation of Colorado’s economic health.

  • In 2004, almost $2.3 billion was spent in Colorado by hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers alone, with total spending on outdoor equipment and gear totaling $1.3 billion in the same year. (1)

  • Roadless area ecosystems are critical to the fresh water resources that are estimated to be worth $241.5 million annually in the Rocky Mountain Region, with water from all national forests estimated to be valued at $3.7 billion per year. (2)


Maintaining healthy wildlife populations
is critical to sustaining Colorado
traditions and the state's economy
Colorado Division of Wildlife

The Value of Natural Ecosystems

Roadless areas provide locations where fires can be allowed to fulfill their natural, and important, ecological roles, rather than being routinely suppressed. They provide opportunity for scientific research, places where we can study to better understand how the natural world works. Expanses of healthy forests help slow climate change, absorbing and recycling carbon that otherwise would clog the atmosphere and alter weather patterns.

  • Heavily roaded areas are generally at higher risk of more frequent and more severe wildfire than roadless areas because: 1) they are generally lower-altitude, warmer, drier ecosystems; 2) they are visited by more people, and thus are at greater risk from human-caused fires; and 3) they tend to be areas that have seen heavy logging or more intense fire suppression efforts, providing a rich source of readily ignitable fuel.

  • Roadless areas provide unique opportunities for scientific research, attracting academic and industry scientists — and the funding that supports them — to Colorado.

A photographer enjoys the Pike-San Isabel National Forest.       The Wilderness Society

Protecting the Landscapes We Treasure
Perhaps even more immediately and personally tangible than the water, habitat, economy, safety, and scientific knowledge found in roadless areas is the special beauty that defines much of Colorado and inspires our lives. A clear stream meandering through an untracked grassy meadow or cascading over a boulder field; an aspen grove silent save the subtle rattle of turning leaves; a deep forest of tall, dark spruce trees — these are the images of Colorado that we hold so dear and enjoy sharing with family and visitors.

Colorado’s forests are essential to the health of the human spirit, providing wild and natural places for solitude and adventure. As the rest of the landscape is increasingly developed and pressures continue to mount on our public lands, the importance of preserving our remaining roadless areas becomes paramount.


For more information:

Matt Garrington
Environment Colorado 
303.573-3871 x310

Michael Saul
National Wildlife Federation

Suzanne Jones
The Wilderness Society
303.650.5818 x102


1 Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) 2004

2 USDA Forest Service, Water and the Forest Service, FS-660, January 2000