Forest roads and landscape structure in the southern Rocky Mountains

James R. Miller, Linda A. Joyce, Richard L. Knight, Rudy M. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Roadless areas on public lands may serve as environmental baselines against which human-caused impacts on landscape structure can be measured. We examined landscape structure across a gradient of road densities, from no roads to heavily roaded, and across several spatial scales. Our study area was comprised of 46,000 ha on the Roosevelt National Forest in north-central Colorado. When forest stands were delineated on the basis of serai stage and covertype, no relationship was evident between average stand size and road density. Topography appeared to exert a greater influence on average stand size than did road density. There was a significant positive correlation between the fractal dimension of forest stands and road density across all scales. Early-seral stands existed in greater proportions adjacent to roads, suggesting that the effects of roads on landscape structure are somewhat localized. We also looked at changes in landscape structure when stand boundaries were delineated by roads in addition to covertype and serai stage. Overall, there was a large increase in small stands with simple shapes, concurrent with a decline in the number of stands > 100 ha. We conclude that attempts to quantify the departure from naturalness in roaded areas requires an understanding of the factors controlling the structure of unroaded landscapes, particularly where the influence of topography is great. Because roads in forested landscapes influence a variety of biotic and abiotic processes, we suggest that roads should be considered as an inherent component of landscape structure. Furthermore, plans involving both the routing of new roads and the closure of existing ones should be designed so as to optimize the structure of landscape mosaics, given a set of conservation goals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-127
Number of pages13
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Colorado
  • Conservation
  • Fragmentation
  • Landscape structure
  • Roads

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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