Right-sizing Roads

Grosventre Falls Glacier, National Park, Montana
Jeff Fox
There are too many roads in our forests. Many of the 380,000 miles of roads are unused, dead-end routes.

Old, unused roads inundate and negatively impact our national forests. America’s forests are critical for animal habitat, providing communities with clean drinking water, and reducing climate change.

The Forest Service road system is oversized and poorly maintained. This system of old roads – more than 8 times as long as the 43,000-mile U.S. interstate system – cannot be maintained. The Forest Service can only afford to maintain about 20 percent of the system, resulting in a maintenance backlog of $5 billion to $8 billion. This problem makes reducing the road system, also called right-sizing, an important solution.

See also:

National Forest Action Center

The current system is wrong-sized

Our national forest road system exploded in size starting in the early 1980’s when timber production boomed. The timber demand from our national forests has since diminished, leaving many of the roads abandoned and in disrepair.
These damaged roads pollute streams that sustain our fisheries and provide communities with clean drinking water. In fact, 66 million people and 3,400 communities rely on national forests for their drinking water.

What is our goal?

The Wilderness Society works with surrounding communities and the Forest Service to reduce the road system. Instead of the broken, outdated system we have today, we need a road system that:

  • Allows for clean water
  • Facilitates sustainable recreation and forest management
  • Minimizes disturbances to wildlife habitat
  • Is affordable to manage

Getting to a right-sized road system

In order to achieve a properly-sized road system, the Forest Service needs to do three things:

  1. Conduct a science-based analysis to determine which roads are necessary and which are unneeded and can be reclaimed.
  2. Not all roads are equal – some are more harmful to water and wildlife than others. The Forest Service needs to prioritize which roads should be reclaimed first.
  3. Turn our research and words into action. Take unneeded roads out of commission and maintain needed ones

See also:

Forest Planning
Forest Restoration

A great solution: Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Initiative

The Legacy Roads and Trails Remediation Initiative was created in 2007 to reclaim expensive, unnecessary, environmentally-problematic roads and trails. This initiative has:

  • Created or retained 700 to 915 jobs annually
  • Helped the Forest Service improve 659,600 acres of animal habitat and restore 659,600 miles of streams that provide clean drinking water to surrounding communities
  • Lowered long-term cost of maintaining the road system
  • Improved access to important and popular recreation destinations
  • Reduced pollution in America’s rivers and drinking water

The Forest Service road system is oversized and poorly maintained. This system of old roads – more than 8 times as long as the 43,000-mile U.S. interstate system – cannot be maintained.

See also:

A government program everyone likes: Legacy Roads and Trails
Travel Analysis Best Practices: A Review of Completed Travel Analysis Reports

Helpful links