3 Reasons to Stop Building Roads in Wilderness Areas

What makes the wilderness, you know…wild? Is it the ratio of resident wildlife to humans? Proliferation of flora? A lack of indoor plumbing?

According to top international scientists, one of the biggest differences between wilderness and civilization is the existence of roads. And if we really want to protect our wild places, and the important ecosystems they contain, we’ll stop making it so easy for humans to travel there.

In late March 2014, a group of prominent European scientists chose to celebrate the 2nd International Day of Forests by urging the world to keep wild areas free of roads. ”Scientific reports and satellite imagery have demonstrated road building is a major driver of deforestation from the Amazon to Indonesian and Congo Basin forests,” stated MEP Kriton Arsenis, founder of the RoadFree initiative, adding that 95 percent of forest loss occurs within 50 km of a road. “Keeping our last intact forests free of roads is a cost-efficient way to protect the climate, halt biodiversity loss and keep illegal traffickers at bay,” Arsenis explained in a statement.

As Earth’s human population continues to grow, wilderness areas, even those that should be protected and preserved, will come under increased pressure. Many of these roads–some experts say up to 90 percent–will be constructed in countries with the highest levels of biodiversity, putting our most essential asset at risk.

3 Reasons to Stop Building Roads in Wilderness Areas

logging road

1. Roads facilitate logging, mining and energy development – Intact forests store vast amounts of carbon, most of which is contained in large, old trees. Keeping these forests intact and free of roads not only prevents dangerous carbon dioxide emissions, it also preserves the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of indigenous peoples around the world, and helps them adapt to a rapidly changing climate,” said Dr. Sean Foley, Chairman of The Samdhana Institute.

car in national park

2. Roads discourage actual interaction with nature – When I lived in Tennessee, one of the most popular destinations in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park–Cades Cove–was only a 30 minute drive away. But once inside the park, people rarely got out of their cars. Why? Because someone built the Cades Cove Loop, an 11-mile, one-way loop road that circles the cove, offering motorists the opportunity to “sightsee at a leisurely pace” and without actually setting foot on the ground. Boooring.

invasive species

3. Roads invite invasive species – When you carve a road into an otherwise undisturbed area, it becomes an artery for foreign entities. ”Roads disturb the soil, open the forest canopy and allow more light to reach the ground,” explains Todd Hawbaker, a graduate student at University of Wisconsin-Madison who studied the impact of forest roads on the ecosystem. “These conditions allow invasive weeds to take hold and displace native plant life.” Generally the only question is how long it will take for invasive species to colonize a new road, he added.

Want to learn more about the impact of roads on forest ecosystems and join the fight to keep more wilderness areas road free? Watch the video below and check out the work of RoadFree.org.

Lead image via Johan Larsson, forest images via Thinkstock


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

More roads or some of the ones we have now, cause animals to get hit and killed. It was their territory - let them have it back!!

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson3 years ago

Number three is a good enough reason to not build, in my opinion.

Amy Ingalls
Amy Ingalls3 years ago

The is a great article, but I think we could also try and get rid of some of the roads we already have and let nature take it back.

Luna starr
luna starr3 years ago


Marion W.
Marion W3 years ago

Well, Duh !
Add a road and it is no longer Wilderness.
There was a good song from the late 60's or early 70's called "The Coming of the Roads". People need to learn to value our Earth more than money and more than personal convenience.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se3 years ago


Kathleen R.
Kathleen R3 years ago

Watched video & shared the video. Thanks !

Angela Ray
Angela Ray3 years ago

Leave the forests alone. Don't destroy the animals homes.

Ian Brown
Ian Brown3 years ago

Obvious really! Sadly, this morning I received an email from WWF encouraging me to visit the Galapagos Islands. I need to know that it's there but I don't need to go there!