Roadless areas on public lands represent most of the last best coldwater fish habitat left in the United States. Undamaged by roads and other development, the headwater streams and rivers that flow through them offer some of the last refuges for many of the West's native trout, salmon and steelhead.
Road building for logging and other development has arguably done more damage to more fisheries that any other activity on public lands. Hastily constructed and often shoddily maintained if at all, many such road networks criss-crossing public lands are simply abandoned, destabilizing slopes and leaving a legacy of erosion deadly to fish. The National Forest Road System alone includes over 380,000 miles of roads that suffer from an enormous maintenance backlog of over $8 billion.
Fine sediments choking or burying delicate gravels of trout and salmon spawning beds have devastated many native populations and have led to decreased juvenile fish densities, loss of winter carrying capacity and increased predation of fishes. Silt and flow disturbances can reduce populations of the aquatic insects upon which trout and salmon feed. Roads and poorly designed culverts can also act as barriers to fish migration, increase water temperature, and alter stream flow regimes.
As a result of these impacts, the vast majority of remaining healthy populations of native trout are found on unroaded public lands, including wilderness areas, national parks and unprotected roadless areas. For example, over 60 percent of remaining strong populations of westslope, greenback and Colorado River cutthroat trout are found in roadless areas. Over 76 percent of remaining strong bull trout populations are similarly found in roadless areas.
TU in the News - Roadless Areas Protection