Roads Are Not the Enemy

We need to stop acting as if every road on our national forest system is a blight on the landscape

.There shouldn't be an "End to maintained roads"

The Forest Service has come up with a system for road density that’s not well thought out.  It’s based on the number of miles of roads per square mile of land.  One major problem with this is that square miles are flat, the National Forest is not.  This means that if there are hills or mountains in a given square mile that the number of miles required to cover the same distance will be more than if they were on a flat surface.

Not all roads are good, nor are they all in the right place.  We should be removing some roads and replacing them with better roads that will do much more good than harm.  Some roads just need some TLC to keep the water flows clean and in the right places.  We see many cases where roads are just not maintained.  Channel from many years of rainAt first, when there’s a major storm you have a little water that crossed onto the surface of the road and it creates a small channel.  Not a big deal as long as you come back and either fix that areas of the road or use a grader to contour the surface back to it’s intended level.  Unfortunately, much like the forest, these roads have been left alone for 10, 15, and sometimes over 20 years.

Each year those storms create a larger and larger channel in the road until much of the surface is washing down the road like a stream bed. Road Wash-out On top of that, when water starts running on the road for extended periods of time rather than running in a ditch with strategically placed culverts or leaving the road by way of functioning water bars, we see more and more “wash-outs.”  This is where the entire road fails and washes down the bank.  Many times putting massive amounts of sediment into a stream.

There is a solution.  We need to look at strategically locating forest restoration projects in areas where the roads need the most attention.  When the Forest Service does this the contractor will, as part of the contract, fix and maintain the roads.  If the Forest Service used this strategy we could not only fix the roads, but the forest would be getting much-needed fuels reduction and restoration work done.  And just like your car, the forest and the system of roads within it, need preventative maintenance.  Putting projects routinely (Every 5 to 10 years) in the same drainage system would allow for regular maintenance of those roads and the forest.  The projects last between three and ten years, so it isn’t like they are being neglected for ten years, but getting necessary grading and fixing when problems arise.

The days of building road systems on the National Forest is over.  We aren’t going to see any new massive road networks built in our forests because we don’t need them.   That doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t build new roads based on science or need.  It means that we need to better manage the system of roads we have.  Make them better.

If we’re not going to use them as current or future roads, we need to look and see if they can be converted to trails.  This doesn’t have to be a massive financial undertaking by the Forest Service, as many of these community groups would love to volunteer time and energy to making sure these converted roads are safe for recreation travel as well as having the appropriate drainage systems.  If these are in areas of management, the contractors can easily do the work with equipment to convert them to the appropriate use with no cost to the Federal Government as long as there are retained receipts from the Stewardship Projects.  This a simple solution that could be put into action quickly.

Roadless areas should stay roadless.  There may be some exceptions to this, as I’ve heard from other forests across the country that some of the roadless areas that were controversial to begin with.  By enlarge, most of the Inventoried Roadless Areas are without roads and will stay that way.   That doesn’t mean that motorized recreation is off limits, it just means that we aren’t going to build roads there for the purposes of development. There may be exceptions, but that should be dealt with by collaborative groups that have knowledge of the areas and the needs of the forests and its community.

Well designed road

Roads are necessary, and left alone will cause much more harmful environmental issues than if we maintain them appropriately.


2 thoughts on “Roads Are Not the Enemy”

  1. Good article. FS needs to physically check all system roads each spring, and schedule timely maintenance appropriate for that road and conditions. A look at them every 5 years won’t catch a failure that could occur less than a year after scheduled maintenance.

    1. Bill, great to hear from you. You’re right, however I think these checks could be done by a private entity or adopted by a user group that reports back to the USFS. I don’t trust that the current FS staffing levels would allow for a proper review of roads. Having someone with a positive, vested interest that reports to both the USFS and the County Commissioners would be a good start. Another thing that bothers me is the lack of technology that the FS is using. They could easily set up a tracking system that could be kept up by providing input and photos based on GPS locations from smartphones or devices that could drive maintenance priorities. Instead it seems like the solution is to say the problem is too big, look the other way until the roads fall apart in order to say that the roads should be removed. May or may not be what they are trying to do, but it could certainly be a reasonable argument based on past performance.

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