Policy Statements » Letters from the President:

RS 2477: Roadless Areas Rulemaking

July 15, 2003

Dear Representative:

The Ecological Society of America (ESA), the nation’s professional organization of ecological scientists, would like to offer its perspective on the Disclaimer Rule and the revival of Revised Statute 2477, which—through rights-of-way claims—has the potential to have a very broad negative impact on the nation’s federal lands. The January 2003 Bureau of Land Management Rule is particularly worrisome because new RS 2477 rights-of-ways claims would not be required to meet any particular standards or criteria for environmental protection to be approved.

ESA supports the current nationwide protection of U.S. roadless areas as determined by the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Roadless areas play a vital ecological role as refugia for sensitive species and as providers of ecosystem services, such as high quality drinking water. Sustaining these areas will benefit the U.S. public as well as the many other species with which we share our resources.

RS 2477 has the potential to facilitate new road-building on a wide range of public lands, including National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, National Forests, designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. Direct effects of roads on ecosystems are well documented. The current state of scientific knowledge about effects of roads includes:

Water Degradation: Roads contribute sediment to water bodies such as streams which can degrade the water quality, damage aquatic life, and spoil drinking water available for human consumption. Roads can also bring about changes to water volume, speed, and temperature which can negatively affect a host of animals, including trout and salmon.

Biological Invasion: Roads have been shown to be pathways along which invasive plants and animals, many of which are non-native, can expand their ranges. Exotic species often thrive in the environments created by roads and can also be inadvertently transported by vehicles. Roads create open edges to forests which can make species more vulnerable to pest epidemics, invasion by nonnative species, and nest parasitism. Examples include: weeds, such as spotted knapweed; aggressive brood parasites, such as the brown-headed cowbird; and pathogens, such as Port-Orford cedar root rot.

Habitat Fragmentation: Roads break up local populations of smaller animals and plants, in some cases bringing about local extinctions. Roads can alter the behavior and movement patterns of large animals, such as elk, wolves, and bears, who may avoid suitable habitat because of its proximity to roads.

Human-caused fire: Most fires are caused by people and over half of these begin in the vicinity of roads. While fire is a natural process, the frequency and timing of fires plays an important role in how the landscape responds.

The Ecological Society of America and its members are happy to provide you with any additional information that may be helpful. Thank you for considering our comments.


Ann M. Bartuska