When you can't see the forest for the roads

Roads are good! The Romans discovered this some 2,500 years ago. Today, roads are a fundamental part of our modern lives. We all want to go places and do things and we depend on goods and services that arrive here on the roadways. We create jobs by extracting resources, and moving them to markets on roads. But if we simply continue to build new roads to new places, ever expanding the network of places we drive, we eventually run out of wilderness. What happens when the road network becomes so dense there isn't even a figment of wilderness left? Oh, wait a minute, we know the answer . . . our world becomes Vancouver.

In October of 2011, the global population passed seven billion people, and almost three million of them live less than three hours away. We look around St'at'imc Territory that is still remote and wild, and it is easy to forget the populations at our doorstep. However, it was only 100 years ago (1911) that Vancouver had only 100,000 residents. It was only 40 years ago (1970) that skiing really started at Whistler. And it was only 20 years ago (1991) they paved the Duffey. Today Whistler is the outskirts of Vancouver, and the wildlife is expected to stay out of trouble. As southern BC's population continues to grow the same pressures will reach us, even here. One only has to travel the Golden Horseshoe in Ontario or the freeways of Seattle to know that three hours on a highway doesn't guarantee any wilderness.

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The pressures of growth come in the form of demand for natural resources, forests, water, and the lifestyle we still enjoy. The undeniable truth is that if we are serious about maintaining our quality of life, the quality of our water, and the quality of our natural resources, If we want our grandchildren (in 40 short years) to have deer, bears, eagles and other wildlife living freely, then we have to start managing roads Today.

When, where and why roads are being built is a fundamental question that will impact our future and the ecosystem we depend on. If we only ever add roads, and never remove them, then the inevitable result is the end of wilderness, and the end of St'at'imc culture that depends on our ecosystems. And this is true for forestry roads as well as public roads because any road increases human and predator access, and fragments the territories of wildlife.

Globally, as road density increases, wildlife species decline and natural ecosystems fail. A 2009 article by Fahrig and Rytwinski, published in the journal Ecology and Society reviewed the effects of road and traffic on the health of over 131 species worldwide. They found the majority of species were negatively impacted by roads and described four categories. There are: 1) species that are attracted to roads but unable to avoid cars (e.g. deer), 2) species with large movement ranges and low reproductive rates that are impacted if their territory is fragmented (e.g, Grizzly bears), 3) small animals that avoid roads, and 4) small animals that do not avoid roads but are unable to avoid traffic (e.g. grouse). The authors suggest there is strong evidence supporting the need to mitigate the effects of roads on wildlife.

With the road network in St'at'imc territory, and surrounding area, expanding each year, and with the ongoing failure to mitigate the impacts of existing roads, we are rapidly losing the opportunity to preserve our remaining wilderness. We are beginning to explore these issues for the Territory by reducing the impacts of roads. What are the cumulative effects of roads on the Mule deer, Grizzly bear and water? Can we adopt a 'no net gain' in access approach, such that each new road is compensated by closing an equivalent type of road somewhere nearby? It is only by managing for the consequences of roads that we will prevent St'at'imc Territory being unable to support St'at'imc culture in our grandchildren's lives.

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