“Roads,” said the eminent ecologist Thomas Lovejoy, “are the seeds of tropical forest destruction.”
Governments view roads as a means to promote economic development and access natural resources. Local communities in remote areas often demand new roads to improve access to markets and medical services, and geopolitically, new roads can be used to help secure resource-rich frontier regions.
But road building has a range of direct impacts on rainforest ecology. In wet tropical environments, operations associated with road construction can impede streams, increase forest flooding, and drastically increase soil erosion.
Studies have shown that even narrow, unpaved roads drastically reduce or stop local movements for many forest bird species who prefer deep, dark forest interiors, and a variety of other tropical species, such as certain insects, amphibians, reptiles, bats, and small and large mammals, have been shown to be similarly leery of roads and other clearings.
By bringing rainforest wildlife into close proximity with fast-moving vehicles, roads can also promote heavy animal mortality and could potentially become death zones that help propel species toward local extinction.
But environmental impacts of tropical roads can be minimized. Frequent culverts can reduce the effects on streams and hydrology. Impacts on animal movements can be reduced by keeping road clearings narrow enough so that canopy cover is maintained overhead, providing a way for arboreal species to cross. In high-priority areas, rope-bridges are being used to facilitate road crossings of monkeys and possums,and for small ground-dwelling species and even large animals, highway underpasses are designed to be wildlife-friendly.
Among the many human drivers of environmental change, it is far easier to cancel or relocate a road project than it is to reduce human overpopulation or halt harmful climate change.
At the Mamoní Valley, we maintain our access roads to such a minimum, that we have only one unpaved, low-impact road leading to our preserve, and we encourage our rangers, workers and limited number of visitors and researchers the use of carbon-free transportation. Because who doesn’t enjoy a good walk or horse ride to keep motorized vehicles as a last resort to get to where one is going, and contribute to an ecofriendly environment?