Road scholars for the western states: Protecting natural areas by improving road management research

B. Cooke
C. Luce
T. Black
David G. Tarboton, Utah State University


A poorly placed or unsuitably designed road can result in landslides, flooding, gullies, stream damage, and wildlife habitat destruction. Particularly in natural areas, benefits of roads, such as accessibility and convenience, must be weighed against potential water quality degradation, scenic and wildlife habitat destruction, and hazardous driving conditions. Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Research Station helped create two free tools—GRAIP (Geomorphic Road Analysis and Inventory Package) and GRAIP-Lite—to help land managers make better decisions about road management in environmentally sensitive areas. GRAIP helps land managers analyze and predict surface erosion, gully risk, landslide risk, stream crossing failure risks, and other hazards. GRAIP-Lite allows land managers to quickly compare roads and road lengths in terms of their potential impact on the environment. Land managers in places like southwest Crown of the Continent in Montana and the Payette National Forest in Idaho are finding GRAIP and GRAIP-Lite to be useful tools for prioritizing road management projects, validating road management decisions, and building consensus among stakeholders. The tools have also been useful in context of the Legacy Roads and Trails program, Clean Water Act requirements, and the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.