Roads and Tropical Forests
From White Lines to White Elephants
When conservationists debate the underlying causes of habitat loss in the tropics, roads often top the list. Roads open formerly inaccessible wilderness areas to any human activity that can be practically undertaken. It is precisely for that reason that roads are so popular and present such a formidable conservation challenge. This chapter examines the nature of roads' environmental impacts and presents four fundamental strategies to ensure that road planning minimizes the worst and least reversible of these impacts. Recent experiences in Brazil and Bolivia illustrate how the threat of road-induced habitat loss was addressed in varying circumstances.
If there is one road project that awakened concern over the connection between roads and deforestation, it was Brazil's BR-364. Financed by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazilian government, this highway links the Amazonian states of Mato Grosso, Rondonia, and Acre. The road cut through wilderness, biological reserves, and indigenous territories and ignited bloody conflicts between ranchers and rubber tappers; spectacular photographs and satellite images of the concomitant forest destruction were beamed around the globe.
P. M. Fearnside (1987) reported that deforestation in Rondonia climbed from a background level of 1,216 square kilometers in 1976