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Outdoor Recreation: Historical and Anticipated Trends
Curtis H. Flather and H. Ken Cordell
One attribute common to the diverse array of outdoor recreational pursuits is the need for a spacious land- or water-base (Clawson and Harrington 1991). The fact that outdoor recreation is dispersed over large areas has undoubtedly contributed to the perception that it has little environmental impact compared to extractive uses of natural resources such as timber harvesting or livestock grazing. Some have concluded that outdoor recreation is benign, or at worst neutral, in its environmental consequences (see Wilkes 1977; Duffus and Dearden 1990).
Given the growing number of outdoor recreationists, and an emerging disposition among some public land management agencies to shift their emphasis from commodity to amenity uses (Brown and Harris 1992), the notion that recreation has no environmental impacts is no longer tenable. Recreationists often degrade the land, water, and wildlife resources that support their activities by simplifying plant communities, increasing animal mortality, displacing and disturbing wildlife, and distributing refuse (Boyle and Samson 1985). These impacts can be particularly extensive for the very reason that many outdoor recreational impacts were initially thought to be diluted—namely, recreationists are dispersed over large areas (Cole and Knight 1991).
Management strategies for regulating recreational impacts on wildlife often involve restricting access to public lands, and, proactive management would benefit from an analysis of historical and anticipated trends in outdoor recreation. In this chapter we review these trends for outdoor recreation in the United States, speculate on the potential causes of these trends, and suggest research to extend the effectiveness of recreation forecasting in resource management planning.
A Typology of Wildland Outdoor Recreation Activities
Common criteria used to distinguish levels of potential interaction with wildlife among recreational activities include consumptive versus nonconsumptive motivations, species harvested, and whether wildlife is a purposeful or incidental component of the experience. We have categorized activities on the basis of these criteria to distinguish among the potential impacts on wildlife habitats and populations.
We have made a primary distinction between activities that directly depend on wildlife and those that do not. Participation in wildlife-dependent activities is contingent on the expected occurrence of wildlife in the area. In contrast, the enjoyment of nondependent activity is often enhanced by, but participation is not conditioned on, the presence of wildlife. Among wildlife-dependent activities we distinguish between consumptive and nonconsumptive recreation. A final level of distinction broadly groups consumptive activities according to species harvested. Species groupings correspond to state licensing categories and include big game, small game, and migratory bird hunting, and freshwater and saltwater fishing. In this chapter, references to "wildlife" include fish.
Public demand for outdoor recreation opportunities grew rapidly with the revival of the U.S. economy following World War II. Annual growth rates in the use of public parks and recreation facilities often exceeded 10% from the early postwar period through the mid-1960s (Walsh 1986). This period of rapid growth was coincident with a general rise in affluence as indicated by increased disposable income, increased leisure time, institutionalization of paid vacations, and transportation improvements that facilitated mobility (Clawson and Harrington 1991).
Increased affluence has also been associated with the formation of a conservation ethic (see Myers 1985; Brady 1988), so it is not surprising that the outdoor recreation boom paralleled the growth of the conservation movement; its beginnings were marked by the establishment of The Conservation Foundation in 1948, the Sport Fishing Institute in 1949, and The Nature Conservancy in 1951 (Clawson and Harrington 1991). Although the concurrent evolution of conservation ethics and outdoor recreation was initially regarded as mutually beneficial, many of the goals of natural resource conservation, wilderness preservation, and provision of outdoor recreation are now viewed as conflicting (Nash 1982:316). Quantifying the magnitude and the nature of the conflict requires, in part, a review of recent historical trends in the number of outdoor recreationists.
Recent Historical Trends in Outdoor Recreation
To characterize the temporal data series relevant to outdoor recreation, growth rate for a given activity is usually compared to population growth (see Snepenger and Ditton 1985). Although growth rates enable one to infer trends in the popularity of an activity, statistics on participation (e.g., the number of people, number of visits, and aggregate time on the recreation landscape) are necessary to judge the potential impacts on wildlife resources.
Number of participants, as an indicator of potential impact, is particularly important in light of the decreasing availability of places for outdoor recreation. Although the United States has a substantial public land base to support outdoor recreation (300 million ha), much of the potential land and water recreation base is under rural private ownership (60% of United States land area) with restricted access to outdoor recreationists. In 1987, only 23% of rural private lands were open to the public without restriction, a decline of nearly 30 million ha since 1977 (Cordell et al. 1990:14). More recent evidence indicates that the trend toward greater closure and exclusive leasing of private land is continuing (Cordell et al. 1993).
TRENDS IN WILDLIFE-DEPENDENT ACTIVITIES
Trends in wildlife-dependent activities have been mixed over the last three decades (Fig. 1.1). More people participated in fishing (freshwater fishing in particular) than in any other wildlife-dependent activity. In 1985, nearly 25% of this country's inhabitants fished.
In contrast to the monotonic increase in the number of anglers, hunter numbers have remained essentially unchanged since 1975. The stability in the number of total hunters, however, is misleading. The number of small game and migratory bird hunters has declined substantially since 1975, while the number of hunters pursuing big game species has increased during every survey period since 1955.
The divergence in participation trends by species category may be explained, in part, by trends in game populations. Small game species associated with agricultural habitats, including ring-necked pheasant, northern bobwhite, and cottontail have shown declines in abundance (Flather and Hoekstra 1989:33). Similarly, breeding duck populations declined by 30% from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s (U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service 1992). Conversely, big game populations have increased in most states (Flather and Hoekstra 1989:28).
Other factors that may be contributing to declines in migratory bird and small game hunters include restricted access, crowding, and less leisure time available for hunting (Smith et al. 1992; Enck et al. 1993). Participation in small game and migratory bird hunting appear to be more tied to land access than big game hunting. In 1985, 63% of small game hunters and 62% of migratory bird hunters hunted on private lands only, compared with 51% of big game hunters (U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service 1988).
Nonconsumptive recreational activities are growing in popularity relative to traditional wildlife and fish recreational pursuits (Duffus and Dearden 1990). The number of persons that actually traveled more than 1.6 km from their residence to observe, photograph, or feed wildlife increased from 22.9 to 37.5 million from 1980 to 1990 (Fig. 1.1a)—an average annual rate of increase that exceeds all other wildlife-oriented recreation. Based on 1991 survey results, most of the participants in nonconsumptive activities simply observed wildlife (96%); substantially fewer people photographed (47%) or fed wild animals (44%) (U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1993).
Trends in the total number of days devoted to wildlife-dependent recreation (Fig. 1.1b) tend to mirror trends in participants, with two notable exceptions. First, despite increased numbers of participants, the number of nonconsumptive trips declined between 1980 and 1990. Second, since 1975, the number of days spent angling and hunting have deviated from participation trends. Despite consistent increases in the total number of anglers, the number of days spent fishing declined conspicuously in the 1980 survey and has only recently recovered to 1975 levels. Similarly, the total days spent hunting has continued to decline since 1975 despite a nearly constant number of participants. Although definitive studies are lacking, data do indicate that the amount and focus of leisure time can restrict the level of participation in all types of wildlife-oriented outdoor recreation (see Goodale 1991; Schor 1991).
TRENDS IN ACTIVITIES NOT DEPENDENT ON WILDLIFE
Trends in outdoor recreational activities not dependent on wildlife were established from several sources (Table 1.1). Although the estimates were developed using different methods, the results are sufficiently comparable to indicate general trends over a ten-year period.
Among the land-based activities, those occurring within developed recreation sites or near roads had the highest number of persons 12 years old or older participating. The consistent improvement in bicycle technology has, in large part, been responsible for biking's strong growth. The increasing popularity in motorized off-road vehicles also seems to be in response to technological advancements that make it easier for less experienced persons to participate. Day hiking, photography, and nature study have shown moderate growth as Americans seek educationally oriented outdoor experiences. Horseback riding and backpacking are growing at slower rates than many of the other land-based activities; they are expanding approximately at the rate of population growth.
Among water-based activities, swimming in natural water bodies has continued to rise in popularity and has tended to concentrate at a limited number of relatively small access points. Motorboating and waterskiing, however, cover large stretches of water, and with development of jet-boat technology, few water bodies are inaccessible.
Participation in downhill skiing and the concurrent ski-resort development are growing at moderate rates. Although the actual area modified and developed for ski slopes is relatively small, they tend to be in high-elevation ecosystems and thus are concentrated within a relatively narrow band of habitat types. More significant to wildlife are the concomitant developments and modifications to the natural landscape resulting from the services and facilities that complement downhill skiing.
Avidity, or frequency of participation, is measured in number of different days on which participation occurred. Biking, swimming, motorboating, off-road driving, day hiking, and developed-site camping have the highest avidity among the activities listed in Table 1.1. Greater frequencies of participation combined with significant numbers of people participating translate into greater pressures on the resources and ecosystems where these activities occur.
Several activities have only recently emerged as popular avocations, including trail (mountain) biking, mountain climbing, rock climbing, caving, orienteering, rafting and tubing, and jet skiing (Cordell et al. 1990). Although these activities are still relatively novel, 1% to 11% of the population 12 years and older participate. Participation often occurs in fragile environments, including alpine tundra, caves and on cliff faces.
Several socioeconomic and resource management factors seem to have shaped recent trends in recreation not dependent on wildlife. Possible causes include an aging population, population growth and redistribution to warmer regions, immigration, increasing numbers of dual-income households, smaller percentages of two-parent households, greater educational attainment, and economic instability as indicated by more frequent recessions (Cordell et al. 1990). Other factors empirically shown to affect participation include reductions in social and physical barriers to participation, advances in recreation equipment technology, expanded availability of information and transportation, accessibility to private and public lands, types and location of recreational facilities, and accessibility of remote areas (Cordell et al. 1990; Cordell and Bergstrom 1991).
Anticipated Trends in Outdoor Recreation
Projecting participation in outdoor recreation activities has often involved a simple extrapolation of historical trends. Although this approach has been used widely, it assumes that past factors affecting recreation participation will continue immutably into the future. This assumption may be suitable for short-term forecasts but is likely to result in biased projections in the long-term (>5 years) (Walsh 1986:353).
A more realistic approach for longer-term projections is to model participation as a function of factors known or hypothesized to affect personal decisions on whether or not to engage in outdoor recreational activities. Under this approach, participation is often modeled a a function of (1) price (e.g., average per capita costs of transportation, food, lodging, fees, distance traveled); (2) socioeconomic factors acting as surrogates for differences in tastes and preferences (e.g., per capita income, age, education, ethnicity, marital status); and (3) resource availability (e.g., big game populations, harvest success rates, proximity and capacity of camping facilities), including substitute opportunities. Our projections of participation in outdoor recreation are based on this modeling approach, the details of which are reviewed by Hof and Kaiser (1983), Walsh et al. (1989), and Cordell and Bergstrom (1991).
PROJECTED PARTICIPATION IN WILDLIFE-DEPENDENT ACTIVITIES
The anticipated trends in the number of people participating in wildlife-oriented recreation presented here are based on an analysis of the 1985 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service 1988) completed by Walsh et al. (1989). In general, future participation patterns are consistent with those observed since 1980 (Fig. 1.2). Fishing and nonconsumptive participation are projected to increase 63% to 142% over the next 50 years. Conversely, participation in big game hunting is projected to remain relatively stable, while participation in small game hunting is expected to decline.
The empirical relations accounting for the difference in future participation among these activities primarily involve income, education, and residence (i.e., urban vs. rural). The expected increase in household income is associated with increased probability of participation in nonconsumptive activities, fishing, and migratory bird hunting. Lower participation rates in big game hunting are associated with increasing income. With increasing education level, the likelihood of participating in coldwater fishing and migratory bird hunting increases, and the likelihood of participating in small game hunting decreases. Finally, as the proportion of the population that lives in an urban setting increases, participation rates rise for coldwater fishing and migratory bird hunting, and rates decline for big game hunting and warmwater fishing.
Excerpted from Wildlife and Recreationists by Richard L. Knight, Kevin J. Gutzwiller. Copyright © 1995 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
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