Roads, Roadless Areas, and Vehicular Use

Newly made road in a national forest for coal mining

We all use roads to access our public lands. They get us where we go to recreate, and we’re grateful for that. But too many roads, and roads that are not well designed, can lead to problems. Roads can have damaging impacts on the health of the land and can put species at risk, including our own. To limit these deleterious impacts, the US government has taken steps to preserve lands without roadless areas.

Broads work to protect roadless areas and keep vehicles on designated roads or trails only.

Deep vehicle ruts in a meadowRoadless Areas – Keeping it Wild

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, signed by President Clinton in 2001, was intended to preserve the nation’s remaining US Forest Service roadless areas that had not been designated as wilderness by Congress. Roadless BLM lands are preserved through designation as Wilderness Study Areas or identified as Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. Both are to be managed so as not to impair their wilderness character to keep them eligible for future designation as wilderness.

Roadless areas provide important benefits:

  • Clean water and healthy watersheds.
  • Habitat for threatened and endangered species.
  • Large, undisturbed intact areas that enhance biodiversity and provide wildlife freedom of movement, migration corridors, and room for flora and fauna to adapt to a changing climate.

The Roads go on Forever (and disruption never ends)

While some roads are necessary, there is no denying the impact on the landscape and its inhabitants. Roads bring noise, pollution, barriers, and a mortality hazard. They alter water drainage, trigger erosion, fragment habitat, and interrupt migration corridors. The ecological effects of a road extend up to 3200 feet on either side.

Women with a tarp full of dead vegetation to perform vertical mulching.It is estimated there are more than 380,000 miles of roads on Forest Service managed lands alone. That’s enough road to drive around the earth more than 15 times!

Broads’ members advocate to prevent unnecessary roads and decommission old roads that were built to accommodate logging or oil and gas development. Using a technique called “vertical mulching,” they erase obsolete or illegal roads by scattering natural debris, re-seeding with native plants, moving rocks, and raking soil to eliminate visual evidence of tracks.


Stay in Your Lane

Motorized vehicles should only travel on roadways and trails designated for such activities. Unfortunately, some disregard travel routes—out of ignorance, disrespect, or a misplaced sense of entitlement—causing extensive damage to fragile ecosystems.

When vehicles do not stay on designated routes, it harms soils, vegetation, and riparian zones, increasing erosion and degrading water quality. These impacts, combined with the noise emitted by motorized vehicles, are detrimental to wildlife. Motorized access has also led to increased damage and defacing of historic and prehistoric cultural sites.

Limited resources for agencies managing public lands (primarily the BLM and USFS) means limited enforcement. Public land agencies work to create responsible management plans that reflect multiple-use mandates, but they often don’t have the resources to enforce regulations over the vast acreages they manage.

The number of recreational riders of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) continues to grow, as do the capabilities of OHV’s to push ever farther into wild landscapes. Just because it’s possible to drive somewhere doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.

Add to this the pressure by those who want to increase access via roads on public lands by using the arcane legislation passed in 1866 known as RS2477. Broads have fought this battle for years, particularly in Recapture Canyon in Utah.

Broads’ Role

In addition to our work to keep roadless areas intact and decommission unnecessary roads, Broads across the country get boots-on-the-ground and work with federal, state, and local land managers to gather data and monitor vehicular uses on public lands.

We collaborate with and provide input on travel management planning, and hold agencies accountable to implement plans, abide by the policies, and enforce restrictions.

To get involved contact your local Broadband or work with the national office to start your own monitoring project. Watch the Broads’ website for action alerts and events that provide education, advocacy, and stewardship opportunities.

Broadtastic Books: Roads & Vehicular Use

There are
miles of roads on lands
managed by the
Bureau of Land Management.

There are
miles of roads in our
national forests and
grasslands. That’s 8 times more than the U.S.
interstate highway system.

of the lands in the
continental U.S. are