Identifies relatively undisturbed forest blocks in Canada and the United States, providing maps that show their size, condition and current levels of protection.

Key Findings

  • Only 6 percent of forest cover in the lower 48 states remains within large tracts of low-access forest, areas at least 200 square kilometers mostly undivided by roads and other access routes. About 40 percent is strictly or moderately protected.
  • Much of this forest in the lower 48 is federally owned. About 30 percent are within national forests, and thus are a focus of recent controversy regarding a roadless area logging ban, established during the Clinton administration (and currently under review).
  • In the lower 48, over 60 percent of remaining large tracts of low-access forest are found within six states. In order of relevant forest area, there are: Idaho, Montana, Washington, California, Wyoming and Minnesota.
  • All but 5 percent of large, low-access forest tracts are in Canada and Alaska.
  • Canada houses vast areas of low-access forest, much of which is within slow growing regions, with sparse tree cover. Only 4 percent of these large tracts are strictly or moderately protected today.

Executive Summary

This paper presents the results of a map-based analysis of the location and status of North American forests (excluding Mexico) that remain mostly undivided by roads and other access routes, so-called low-access forests. It provides a regional look at where large tracts (larger than 200 square kilometers) of low-access forest are located, as well as an assessment of the degree to which these tracts are currently protected.

Because of data limitations (for example, the analysis does not factor in the presence of logging roads), these results create only a coarse picture, at a continental scale, of the location and status of large, low-access forest tracts.

The results are useful for identifying forests that, due to their limited development, offer opportunities for expanding protected area networks and/or for restoration, as well as priority areas for future mapping to characterize intact forests at finer scales.