Roadless Rainforest Region, Queensland, Australia (credit: Riled Up Journal)
The first map of the world's roadless areas has been produced by ecologists at Writtle University College in the UK. Researchers with the Center for Econics and Ecosystem Management analysed 24 million miles of data on roads and the resulting map shows the Earth’s surface has been shattered into more than 600 thousand fragments by roads. More than half of the fragments are smaller than 1 mile. Roads introduce numerous ecological problems by interrupting gene flow for animal populations; facilitate the spread of pests, diseases, and deforestation; and increase soil erosion that contaminates rivers. The roadless area investigations were made for the Sustainable Development goals set in 2015 by the UN and made available to public and private land management organizations.
According to the authors of the Science Magazine study:
"Roads fragment landscapes and trigger colonization and degradation of ecosystems, to the detriment of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. The planet’s remaining large and ecologically important tracts of roadless areas sustain key refugia for biodiversity and provide globally relevant ecosystem services. Global protection of ecologically valuable roadless areas is inadequate. International recognition and protection of roadless areas is urgently needed to halt their continued loss."
The study authors and the founders of the Roadless Areas Initiative narrate a perspective on the project:
It is becoming clearer that protecting roadless areas are an essential component of conservation. They are important to water resources, recreation, and biodiversity protection. Promoting reforestation of abandoned or degraded lands could also represent an opportunity to restore ecosystem function. Maps like the new roadless areas analysis could provide direction.