Road to Environmental Destruction

Roads are considered connectors of human development providing opportunities for economic success and communication but the flip side of this network is that it has also brought enormous destruction to our fields and forests. With forest destruction comes increased human development and ecological degradation. Recent mapping and modeling has been done to document and measure forest destruction in an initiative by the Ames Research Center of NASA and ENN affiliate, Mongabay.

Using satellite imagery to detect deforestation as it is happening allows the opportunity to measure the deforestation and investigate it before it expands. Past satellite imagery has revealed the increased forest depletion in the proximity of new roads.

According to Kriton Arsenis, Greek Member in Parliament (MEP) of the European Parliament, “95% of forest loss occurs within 50 km of a road. Scientific reports and satellite imagery have demonstrated road building is a major driver of deforestation, from the Amazon to Indonesian and Congo Basin forests.”

Because of their ability to store carbon stores, their capacity to prevent floods, and protecting biodiversity, Arsenis believes that urgent measures are needed to curb the construction of roads in forested regions. Further, protection is critical to the preservation of the environment and the ongoing struggles with climate change. Arsenis says, “Keeping our last intact forests free of roads is a cost efficient way to protect the climate, halt biodiversity loss and keep illegal traffickers at bay.”

William Laurence, a professor at Australia’s James Cook University, sees roads as a gateway to the destruction of forestland.

“Roads are often fatal for forests and other native ecosystems,” he said. “They open up a Pandora’s Box of environmental problems, such as illegal deforestation, colonization, hunting, mining, and land speculation.”

Presently the European Union has several rules governing exploitation of forest resources including the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), which prohibits selling illegally harvested timber and its products, but regulations currently contain no road construction legislation in forests.

Roads are generally constructed to connect isolated communities with the remainder of the country or support economic development within a remote area. Juliette Ebélé, spokesperson for the International Road Transport Union, while admitting the sector’s impact on deforestation, says, “Road infrastructure and road transport are a major driver of economic and social development, granting access to rural or remote areas, hence bringing about agricultural, business, habitat opportunities, and so on.” Ebélé goes on to say that there should be policies to protect the environment in the construction of  roads through sensitive areas.


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