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Image by Jacek Smoter

Roadless Areas

The construction and use of roads throughout the world has resulted in soil erosion; noise pollution, light pollution, water, air and soil pollution; wildlife habitat loss and degradation; and direct wildlife mortality. And the pace of road construction globally continues to increase making these impacts even more pervasive and destructive. The influence of these impacts, particularly noise, can extend many kilometers beyond the road itself. For example, a well-used highway can drive woodland caribou away from prime habitat up to 30 km away from the road due to noise.

Roadless areas are places where these environmental impacts are minimal resulting in habitat conditions that are suitable for most natural species communities and ecological processes and are usually identified by applying a buffer on each side of the road. The choice of buffer width depends on objectives and applications; however, 500 m and 1 km are common buffer distances that are used. The areas that are not classified as road or buffer are classified as “roadless”.  These areas can be thought of as the landscapes where species communities are most natural and where ecological integrity is highest. They are often identified and mapped as a first step in the process of creating new protected areas for expanding natural heritage systems.

AFER’s work on roadless area began with an assessment of Algonquin Park, Ontario, which concluded that only 18% of the Park remains roadless due to a continuing policy of logging within 65% of its area. This analysis included a comparison of roadless areas in the Park with an area of similar size along the east coast of Georgian Bay, which had a greater percentage of roadless area. Later, AFER expanded into the assessment of roadless areas for the entire province of Ontario. Total length of roads in Ontario increased from ∼90,000 km in 1916 to ∼607,500 km in 2020 –an increase of ∼517,500 km (675%) over 104 years. Doubling logging production by 2030 per a new Ontario policy could reduce roadless areas by as much as 20% to ∼14.8 million ha by 2030, potentially resulting in their depletion between 2090 and 2100. If all remaining roadless areas in Ontario’s Managed Forest Region were designated as protected areas now, Ontario would achieve 92.7% of the 30 ×30 land protection goal. Unfortunately, roadless areas in Ontario continue to be degraded, fragmented, and eliminated.  

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