Closing Roads (Ecodefense)

The following is part of a series of posts converting to html the monkeywrenching tactics in Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching (3rd edition). See also the PDF of the book.


Most exploitation of the wild requires roads, and the industrial machine could not afford to constantly repair the road network on public lands if even a few hundred people across the country were making a spare time project of trashing it. Roads are difficult and expensive to maintain, especially in the areas we want to save. Selected areas, such as de factowildernesses or roadless areas denied protection in the RARE II rip-off, BLM Wilderness Review, and subsequent “Wilderness” legislation, can be protected by closing the unsurfaced roads that are built and used in the process of exploitation.

Individuals can use the techniques described here, with simple, cheap tools, to prevent vehicle access to sensitive areas. You can deter the testing needed to prove commercial feasibility for proposed developments such as mining or oil & gas drilling. You can discourage the construction of a timber harvest road in a National Forest roadless area. You also can harass and render unprofitable an existing exploitative enterprise.

The simplest, and often most effective, way to inhibit vehicle travel is with “road spikes” (previously discussed). But for a variety of reasons, you may want to employ additional methods of stopping traffic. You might want to make the damage look like an act of nature (or at most, of vandalism). You may wish to prevent quick repair of the road. As each “road spike” is found, it can be removed, whereas some of these techniques will necessitate major repairs. On occasion, the money, equipment, and initiative to make the repairs will not come together, and they will be postponed. Numerous instances of damage to roads will multiply the effects and eventually large parts of the transportation infrastructure on public lands will be abandoned. In this era of high federal deficits, construction and repair of controversial roads that are continually being sabotaged will be recognized as pouring money down a rat hole.

The well-known methods of cutting a tree across or rolling a boulder onto a road are of limited value (but they are of value if enough people do them frequently). The intruder can cut trees out of the way and suffers little loss. Trees can be of greater use on footpaths where dirt bikes are a problem. Hikers simply step over, while the bike has to be dragged over the log(s). Of course the logs have to be placed in spots where dirt bikes can’t ride around the ends and this must be done in many places to present a real deterrent. A tree across the road might be effective in conjunction with another operation to delay motorized pursuit.

Tools

Any boulder you can drag into the road, some 4-wheeler with a winch can probably move out. But where you feel that a big rock or log can be placed in a hard-to-remove position, the most useful tools are: a come-along, rated two tons or heavier; 2 or more chokers; 2 spud bars; a hydraulic (car or truck) jack; large and small rock chisels; and log-splitting wedges. You probably won’t need all of these tools on any one job, but with a tool kit like this, you can move anything that is practical to move without machines. All of these items can be purchased cheaply at flea markets, and anyone who works in a construction trade can easily obtain the bars, come-along, chokers, and such.

A “choker” is a length of cable with a loop in each end: one loop is passed through the other loop and the cable is wrapped around the load to be lifted or moved. Pulling on the free loop pulls the slack out, choking the cable tight around the load, hence its name. You will need at least two chokers and four is better. Buy fifty feet of good, flexible 5/16” or 3/8” stranded steel cable and have it cut into four equal pieces where you buy it. (It takes a special cutter to do a neat job on cable.) Now double the ends back to form a loop of about 6” diameter. Then double cable-clip it. Cable clips can be bought in any hardware store and must be matched to the size of the cable they are to fit. They can be put on with a wrench or visegrips.

The “come-along,” or hand winch, can be attached directly to the object to be moved or it can be used in conjunction with other tackle. You can use it to pull a rope or cable through blocks to multiply its rated power. The small reel on a hand winch will only hold a few feet of cable so you have to secure the load and get a new grip frequently. A logging chain is handy for this type of work. For one thing it acts as its own choker since it has a fitting on each end that grips on any steel link it is slipped over. Steel carabiners are indispensable for all rigging work, especially for work as “fairleads” (those with the Teflon rollers are best) to lead cables and ropes over and around turns. Any library should have books explaining rigging and the use of tackle in detail. Nautical books such as Chapman’s have sufficient coverage of the subject.

“Spud bars” are just long, heavy-duty pry bars. You can make a nice one cheaply by using a piece of heavy-wall steel box tube. Cut a slot in the end of the box tube, slip a piece of leaf spring in the slot, and have a welding shop run a bead everywhere the leaf spring touches the tube. Use the come-along to pull on the end of a log as a giant lever if even a spud bar won’t do the job.

The hydraulic jack is useful for raising something enough to get a bar or roller under, and it can be used for “pushing” as described below. The rock chisels can be used to start blocks of fractured rock, as can the thicker splitting wedges.

Undercutting a Bank

Undercutting a bank is only a little better than logs and rocks since the rubble can usually be cleared out of the way or driven over with less trouble than it took to bring it down. However, it is possible to find conditions where a modest effort applied to an unstable bank (or cliff above the road) will fill up a section of road with no easy detours. Using the spud bar in the cracks of fractured rocks is sometimes feasible. After a bank is well undermined, a ditch across the top of the bank will help to bring it down. (Remain on the uphill side of the ditch and/or rope off to avoid becoming part of the landslide!) If, after undercutting the bank and ditching across the top, it still won’t slide, you can lay a pole on each side of the bottom of the ditch. Lay the hydraulic jack on its side between the poles, and jack them apart. They will spread the load along the ditch and push the undermined bank off.

Removing the Roadbed

Much better than blocking the road is to remove part of the roadbed. This is especially effective on a steep hillside where more fill is hard to get and stabilize in place. One simple, small-scale way to do this is to ditch the natural water flow downward across the road. The best place to do so is where a gully or watercourse crosses the road on a slope. Such a spot may have a culvert or waterbreak to keep the run-off from washing out the road. You can dig out a waterbreak and create a ditch across the road. Running water will deepen it and eventually make the road impassable to vehicles. (If it is too wide, it can be forded, however, and if it is too narrow and shallow, it can be filled with logs or rocks by a driver.) A pick, pry bar, and long-handled, pointed shovel are about the only tools you need for this kind of job.

Perhaps the best way to cut a road is to find the place(s) it is trying to slip off down the slope naturally. Clay slopes often slide as do fractured rocks bedded at a steep angle. On rocky slopes a spud bar and gravity should help you undercut the roadbed. This is especially effective on tight, outside curves and steep slopes. Don’t bother to dig off the entire width of the road; digging off just the outside will do the trick.

While clay slopes can be dug off, too, there is an easier method in some places. With practice you can spot a slope that is trying to slide off. The shoulders of the road will be cracked and slipped in a series of step-downs. If there is water on the uphill (inside) side of the road, stop up the drainage so that the ground becomes soggy. Dig holes to help the water penetrate the subsoil, and once the clay becomes saturated, it will slide.

Culverts

If the road has culverts, stuff the uphill ends with rocks and other debris. Then dig through the road fill to expose the top of the culvert. If this is done at the beginning of a seasonal rainy period or before spring run-off in snow country, most culverts will wash out, creating an excellent vehicle barrier. Keep your work hidden from drivers on the road, otherwise it might be noticed and removed before the next big storm. (See the next section for more ideas on plugging culverts.)

You can also remove the culverts, using the come-along or a vehicle to drag them out. First dig all the road fill off the top of the culvert and free an end enough to get a choker on it. Using pole A-frames and fairleads as necessary, pull upward on the end of the culvert, lifting it out of the road. Use the come-along or a vehicle to pull on the cable, through tackle as necessary, and then bend the culvert when one end is free, leaving it half buried in the road.

Bridges

Wooden bridges are vulnerable and require a major effort and expense to replace. They can be burned but it takes more than a can of kerosene and a match. A huge pile of dry firewood must be heaped up under the load carrying timbers of the bridge to sustain a fire of sufficient heat and duration to burn a soggy old bridge. Fill the available dry area under the bridge, or crib up a log platform covered with dirt, sand, or rock on which to lay the fire. Several arm-loads of small stuff, topped with progressively larger limbs and finally logs should be crammed right up to the underside of the timbers. After the small stuff burns a little and the fire collapses, you should stoke it with big limbs and logs and stuff the openings with branches. Then you can walk away confident of the results. (Do not try to burn bridges in drought conditions or fire season. You don’t want to be responsible for a forest fire!)

You can also saw through bridge timbers from the underside with a chain, bow, or crosscut saw. It is hard to avoid hitting nails — this conceivably could be dangerous with a chain saw (see the Tree Spiking section in the Developments chapter). If noise is a problem, a bow saw blade cuts easily when sharp and can be quickly replaced when dulled. A few drops of kerosene will make it cut smoothly in resinous or creosote-treated wood.

Simple, safe, and inexpensive methods such as these, done in your spare time, multiplied by dozens of similar actions by other ecodefenders in their particular neck of the woods, can effectively stop the destruction of many of our remaining wild areas by vehicle-borne logging, mining, poaching, and by mindless ORVing.

— Daniel Boone

Field Notes

  • In the proper location, it is possible for a group of people, using only their hands, to fill a road with enough boulders and other debris to act as an effective barrier to most vehicles. While a vehicle with a winch, a bulldozer, or a crew of workers might be able to clear the road to permit passage, most casual ORVers will be stymied. If this kind of minor ecotage of roads occurred often enough and in enough locations, many marginal roads would be abandoned. This type of road trashing can be done casually by a group on a hike, taking care that they aren’t caught by ORVers while doing it and being sure that they aren’t trapping some poor old fogey in a jeep on a dead-end jeep trail. Although extremely effective, this form of monkeywrenching bears fewer dangers than other kinds.
    To effectively close roads, strike at numerous points along a single road, and at many roads within the road network surrounding a wild area. Maintain your campaign against the roads in the area — after they are repaired, strike again, and again, and again. Eventually it will become too costly for the Forest Service or whoever to continue repairing them and roads will begin to be abandoned.

  • Keep in mind that as your campaign against roads becomes more effective and costly, your security precautions will need to become more stringent to avoid being caught in an increased law-enforcement campaign to protect the roads.

  • Concern about the federal deficit, budget overruns, and deficit timber sales are conducive to citizen road closures. Forest Service and BLM budgets will be tighter in the future. A massive but dispersed campaign of nibbling away at the road infrastructure on the public lands will soon exhaust agency road repair and construction budgets.

  • Many Forest Service roads have gates which allow the Freddies to close the roads at will for a variety of purposes (wildlife protection is one reason, but these gates may also be used to keep protesters out of a timber sale area). You can cause confusion by getting cheap padlocks at a city hardware store and closing and locking such gates yourself. A little Liquid Solder in the key-hole prevents the lock from being picked. Most FS gates have a casing around the lock to prevent them from being cut with bolt cutters. See the section on Jamming Locks in the chapter on Miscellaneous Deviltry for other ideas.

  • Close a road near the beginning. This keeps vehicles out.

  • One of the cleverest monkeywrenching escapades involved a controversial landing strip in the middle of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area in Idaho. In 1986, an unknown person dug 21 holes with a posthole digger in rows three-abreast along the strip. Salt was put into each. Elk and deer pawed up the holes to get the salt and made the dirt strip unusable for aircraft landing.

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