​The Need For Roadless (Wilderness) Cores

(Adapted from Dave Foreman’s Rewilding North America)

Conservation biology came alive in September 1978, when Michael Soulè organized the first conference on conservation biology in San Diego. The follow-up from the conference was the 1980 publication of the anthology, Conservation Biology: An Evolutionary-Ecological Perspective, shepherded and edited by Michael Soulè and Bruce Wilcox. That book, with contributions from leading biologists, focused on the extinction crisis through the lens of island biogeography. Contributors turned their attention to “the optimal design of nature reserves”—“the most valuable weapon in our conservation arsenal,” according to Soulè and Wilcox.

In Continental Conservation, Reed Noss and his coauthors warn, “Experience on every continent has shown that only in strictly protected areas are the full fauna and flora of a region likely to persist for a long time.” What are these strictly protected areas? “A distinguishing characteristic of core wild areas is limited human access—that is, low road density or, ideally, roadlessness.”

Large roadless areas are essential for rewilding because they protect large carnivores and other sensitive species from depredation and disturbance by people. Dave Parsons, former team leader for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mexican Wolf recovery project, did an in-depth review of how roads impact a variety of species for The New Mexico Highlands Wildlands Network Vision, and found that species from wolves to bighorn sheep need roadless refuges.

Continental Conservation puts it this way:

Conservation strategies that lack meaningful core areas are naïve, arrogant, and dangerous. Such approaches assume a level of ecological knowledge and understanding—and a level of generosity and goodwill among those who use and manage public lands—that are simply unfounded.

Wilderness area designation is the tried and true way to protect roadless areas and to restore ecologically important areas that currently have some roads or other human intrusions.

[More information is forthcoming. See also the EcoWild page.]


Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century by Dave Foreman (Island Press 2004). Order from The Rewilding Institute.

Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks edited by Michael E. Soulè and John Terborgh (Island Press 1999). Particularly Chapter 5 “Core Areas: Where Nature Reigns.” Order from The Rewilding Institute.

Saving Nature’s Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity by Reed F. Noss and Allen Y. Cooperrider (Island Press 1994). Order from Amazon.


Available as a PDF:

Natural History Characteristics of Focal Species in the New Mexico Highlands Wildlands Network by David R. Parsons. CLICK HERE FOR PDF.

Available in a book listed above:

Reed F. Noss et al. “Core Areas: Where Nature Reigns,” Chapter 5 in Continental Conservation.

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