'Ghost roads' haunt forests

  In his announcement of the Forest Service's 18-month road-building moratorium on Jan. 22, Chief Mike Dombeck admitted that there are over 60,000 miles of unmapped "ghost roads' in national forests (HCN, 2/2/98). This was no news to members of the Bozeman, Mont.-based Predator Project, whose Roads Scholars program has been documenting these roads in the Northern Rockies since 1994.

"I'm just surprised that they acknowledged the scope of the problem," says Dave Havlick, the program's director. Ghost roads are usually created by off-road vehicles or by logging operations that fail to close "temporary" roads. Since roadless areas are important to large predators such as grizzly bears, says Havlick, unmapped roads can lead the Forest Service to overestimate the amount of available habitat. Unmaintained roads also wash sediment into streams and contribute to landslides. The agency has closed some roads with gates or other barricades, but the Roads Scholars program found that barely half the closures are keeping out motorized vehicles.

The Forest Service will never be able to stop the illegal use of roads, says agency spokesman Alan Polk, "but we can reduce the chances of those roads being used." He says the 18-month moratorium will give the agency a chance "to get a good, solid inventory and an idea of how many (roads) need to be decommissioned or upgraded."

*Michelle Nijhuis

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