Why are Roadless Areas Important?

From old-growth forests and spectacular waterfalls to desert junipers and pronghorn antelope, Oregon's roadless areas are important backcountry wildlands that provide Oregonians with clean water, fish and wildlife, and outstanding recreational opportunities.

But what exactly does "roadless" mean and where are they located? (click here for a map)

The term "roadless" typically refers to areas on federal land without any major roads (oddly enough, some roadless areas do contain primitive roads).  Federal lands that contain roadless areas include National Forests, managed by the US Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. (Roadless Wildlands FAQ)

Over the last decade, nationwide debate on how to manage roadless areas has primarily focused on the 58.5 million acres of "inventoried roadless areas" in National Forests, including 2 million acres here in Oregon. Because National Forest roadless areas have not been roaded and developed, they remain pristine and unspoiled and provide us with many important benefits:  

Clean drinking water. Intact and unspoiled roadless forests protect the purity of mountain streams and provide clean and reliable drinking water to approximately 800,000 Oregonians across the state.  More than 500,000 acres of Oregon's roadless forests are located in municipal watersheds and provide water to such communities as Salem, Baker City, Lake Oswego, Pendleton, Ashland, Oregon City, Eugene, and Bend.

Outdoor recreation. Oregon's roadless areas, including Mount Hood, the Columbia River Gorge, the Blue Mountains, Hells Canyon, and the wild Rogue River in the Siskiyou Mountains, offer outstanding opportunities to hike, camp, hunt, fish, view wildlife and more. Their scenic beauty adds to our quality of life and forms a special part of the state's landscape.

Oregon Wild has teamed up with mountain biking, hiking, and paddling clubs; hunting and fishing organizations, and outdoor recreation businesses to preserve roadless areas and their recreational values.

Wildlife. Roadless lands provide large areas of pristine and unfragmented wildlands that are crucial to the survival of fish and wildlife. A diversity of life abounds in Oregon's roadless lands, including elk, trout, black bears, rare plants and numerous bird species. Oregon's roadless wild lands also provide important habitat to threatened and endangered animals such as bald eagles, chinook salmon and marbled murrelets.

Studies show that road building damages wildlife by fragmenting habitat and increasing disturbances such as vehicle use and poaching.  Road building can also increase the risk of erosion and landslides, which can damage water quality and threaten habitats used by salmon, trout and other important animals.

Oregon's Economy. The unique scenery, pristine backcountry conditions, and fish and wildlife of Oregon’s roadless wildlands draw millions of visitors each year. Money spent on travel, lodging, transportation, equipment, food and guide services adds millions of dollars to the state’s economy, supports several brand-name outdoor recreation equipment and apparel businesses and supplies a long-term and diverse revenue source for rural communities. Additionally, Oregon’s pristine roadless lands provide protection to several important fish-rearing streams valued by Oregon’s commercial- and recreational-fishing industries. Any degradation of these roadless watersheds could negatively affect water quality and spawning and feeding habitat, and lead to significant reductions in fishery productivity.