Experience from conducting European Wilderness Audits confirms that roads are one of the main barriers to designate high quality Wilderness. The good news is that people nature can restore the areas with old or recently built roads. Even to the stage that we can consider the areas to join the European Wilderness Network. We can actually find examples in several Wilderness in the European Wilderness Network.
Interesting to see and learn is that people and nature can even restore heavily used roads. Some were used by heavy machines (e.g. for forestry) or to provide easy motorised access (seasonal grazing, hunting, tourism facility development). The first step is usually identical, decide to create roadless zone. The next step is not so easy. It is necessary to reach an agreement with all stakeholders to stop using the roads. There are already several examples of areas that implemented this approach. The results look promising for example in Majella Wilderness, Rila Wilderness or Čepkeliai Wilderness.
Please also read: Roads Free Of Wilderness
Wilderness Quality Standard and roads
The European Wilderness Quality Standard and Audit System is based on ten principles. The sixth principle ‘Wilderness Disturbance’ lists this subject. This principle focuses on regulating and limiting road access to the Wilderness, in order to reduce the human impact in the Wilderness zones.
According this principles, the Wilderness zone should generally be free of infrastructure, such as roads. This is not always possible and therefore requires detail mapping of existing and abandoned (inherited) roads. Abandoned and closed roads are sometimes useful as a trail for visitors or are subject of passive restoration. Sometimes old roads cross the Wilderness, which are useful for monitoring, patrol and rescue. These kinds of roads use are subject of careful monitoring. An important aspect is that after Wilderness is declared, no new roads are constructed. Furthermore, Wilderness experts and area management need a detailed mapping of inherited roads and develop a clear long-term plan for restoration and simple maintenance of necessary roads.
Lesson learnt in Kalkalpen Wilderness
We find an interesting example on how to deal with the forest roads in Kalkalpen Wilderness. This area inherited an extensive network of old gravel roads built up in the previous decades. This was when the area was under mining and later on forestry pressure. Since Kalkalpen National Park was established and the objective to create extensive non-intervention zone approved, several important steps were done.
Roads inventory and classification
Firstly, the management agreed on a strategy how to deal with this issue. The inventory revealed that there are no paved roads in the Kalkalpen Wilderness zone. However, the park inherited more than 300 km old gravel roads in other parts, where more that 200 km are in proposed Wilderness.
Afterwards with classification, the management identified several roads categories such as:
- preserved forest roads for legal reasons
- permanent and temporary forest roads used for management
- abandoned forest roads with active and passive restoration.
This classification lead to the knowledge that almost half of roads were already abandoned and not used at all. The park management and rangers predominantly use the many kilometres of roads in Kalkalpen Wilderness, others only in case of emergency. A specific situation is the use of roads, which provide access to the alpine meadows and private cottages. There are also several roads used to transport visitors. Yet, a significant part of the inherited roads in Kalkalpen Wilderness have either no or minimal maintenance, in order to reduce the negative impacts. Only if needed, rangers repair roads manually.
Inventory and classification
Despite the objective to have the least possible actively used roads (either for management or other legal reasons), there is still pressure. Therefore, the management implements the following measures carefully:
- there is minimal road maintenance to reduce the negative impacts inside Wilderness zone
- the repairs are typically manual
- there is no technical infrastructure in place to prevent damage done by avalanches, landslides and rock-fall.
Lessons learnt and experience how to deal with inherited roads are valuable. Thus we must share them among the partners of the European Wilderness Network.
Europe is generally a very intensively developed continent. Roads penetrate the most remote corners. Technology that developed since the 50’s, allowed and encouraged foresters to build a dense network of the forest roads all over Europe. They considered motorized access as an important condition to properly manage a forest.
However, time is changing. More and more people recognise the value of roadless areas. Also, people invest more time and energy to prevent construction of the new roads and restoration of old roads. And after several years of keeping motorised vehicles away, miracles happen.