Road building for logging, energy exploration and other development has arguably done more damage to more fisheries than any other activity on public land. Hastily constructed and usually unmaintained road networks crisscrossing public lands become permanent additions to the landscape. Often abandoned, these roads destabilize slopes and leave a legacy of erosion deadly to fish. The national forest road system alone includes over 380,000 miles of roads, and these are in disrepair due to an enormous maintenance backlog of over $8 billion. In contrast, roadless areas on public lands contain the best remaining coldwater fish and big game habitat in the United States.
When roads are built, and when they erode, fine sediments are flushed into rivers and streams. This sediment chokes and buries the gravel beds used by trout and salmon for spawning. Sedimentation has devastated many native fish populations and has led to decreased juvenile fish numbers in many watersheds. It also disturbs stream flow, inhibits a stream’s ability to harbor trout during the winter, and makes fish more vulnerable to predators. Silt and flow disturbances can also reduce populations of the aquatic insects upon which trout and salmon feed. In addition, roads and poorly designed culverts act as barriers to fish migration, increase water temperature and alter stream flow regimes.
As a result, the vast majority of remaining populations of native trout are found on public lands that have remained free from roads, including our wilderness areas, national parks and inventoried roadless areas. Over 60 percent of remaining healthy populations of westslope, greenback and Colorado River cutthroat trout are found in roadless areas. And more than 76 percent of remaining strong populations of bull trout are similarly found in roadless areas. The headwater streams and rivers that flow through roadless areas serve as the last refuges for many of the West's native trout, salmon and steelhead, and TU, through the SCP, is dedicated to protecting them.