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Outdoor Recreation and Conservation

March 6, 2023
Outdoor Recreation and Conservation

Conservation Challenges and Strategies in Outdoor Recreation

The increased public demand for outdoor recreation has created a strong push for conservation efforts and land protection throughout the United States since the turn of the century. There have been many programs implemented over the years by the Federal, state, and municipal governments, but as public land use increases and access to national parks expands, we face new challenges in balancing the need for outdoor recreation spaces and the desire to protect natural resources. Right now, the biggest challenges our conservation efforts face throughout the outdoor recreation industry are a lack of awareness among visitors of the impact of their use of natural resources, a resistance by outdoor recreation enthusiasts on limiting access to conservation areas, and a lack of scientific data that might allow us to make more informed decisions, along with limited resources that would allow us to manage outdoor activity enthusiasts and enforce regulations.

The Drive for Public Land Protection

The desire for outdoor recreation spaces was a huge part of the initial land protection efforts that emerged after World War II. Prior to this, the primary threats to land conservation and protection were urbanization and commercial resource extraction. Prior to the 1950s, the drive to enjoy nature was a big influence in the development of national and state parks, and public health goals were the impetus for establishing city parks. At the start of the 20th century, Americans’ desire to adventure in the great outdoors created support for the National Park Service and the growing wilderness areas; however, this was mostly limited to national and state parks. After World War II, the drive for outdoor recreation space was the primary motivating factor for developing open spaces, and in turn the diminishment of open spaces prompted a movement for land protections at the state and local levels. 

Members of the public who regularly participated in outdoor activities greatly supported these conservation efforts and contributed to a more widespread belief that outdoor recreation was an important counterpart to industrialization and urbanization. This support added political weight to preservation and conservation efforts. These factors combined spurred a new focus on land protection and conservation at the federal, state, and local levels. The ORRRC further cemented the close connection between outdoor recreation and public land protection and was instrumental in the passing of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 and the National Trails Act of 1968. The organization also supported the Land and Water Conservation Fund of 1964, which provides funding for land planning, acquisition, and development. However, as the outdoor recreation industry grew throughout the 20th century, conservationists failed to question the industry’s compatibility with conservation goals like protection of biodiversity.    

Recent Land Protection Strategies 

The continued popularity of outdoor recreation activities is an increasingly important justification for current land protection strategies. The tools developed in the mid-twentieth century are still the foundation of decisions concerning public land protection throughout the US. Public agencies at the federal level continue to make land protection a priority by establishing wilderness areas, creating wild and scenic rivers, and promoting outdoor recreation as multiple use. Municipal open spaces are also inspired to reach conservation goals like watershed protection and agricultural preservation. The outdoor recreation industry is also still a crucial source of political and financial support for land protection at the state and local levels. And conservation groups continue to advocate for and justify increased land protection in support of outdoor recreation opportunities. The outdoor recreation industry and outdoor activities enthusiasts are some of the most important members of conservation movements.

Challenges to Conservation Efforts

The major use of public lands and growing outdoor recreation activities present many challenges to public access and conservation goals like biodiversity protection. The limited public awareness of the impacts of outdoor recreation can impede the management of land conservation efforts. Ignorance and lack of information can prevent the public from seeing a conflict between outdoor recreation and conservation efforts. There is also a significant inability to see the cumulative effects of the conservation efforts being made thus far. Also, there is often public resistance to limiting recreation in an effort to stay in line with conservation efforts. Land managers often have to wait until they are at the point of fully restricting access to an area because the public will otherwise spend a great deal of time and effort to appeal the decision. Land managers also often lack the statistical data needed to make informed decisions that support recreation and conservation. This lack of data can make it harder to determine and defend their own decisions to the public. Public agencies also have limited resources to manage outdoor recreation. 

Monitoring Visitor Patterns

Monitoring visitor patterns can help us understand the full impact of recreation activities on conservation efforts. Being aware of disturbance processes that affect the species and ecosystems of public lands and natural resources can help us better focus our conservation efforts. We must collect reliable information about when visitors enter, when they visit protected areas, and the activities they take part in during their visit. We should also monitor the landscape context and socio-economic processes that drive spatial and temporal visitation patterns so that we can better plan and anticipate future recreational demand to reserve systems. 

Identifying Thresholds of Disturbance

Reviewing the amount of visitors a protected area receives can help us understand if there are thresholds of disturbance to endangered ecosystems or species. Researchers must compare sites with and without recreation activities and with low versus high levels of visitation. We must measure recreation as a continuous variable and specify response relationships, identify thresholds of disturbance, and translate this data into management thresholds.

Comparing Recreation Activities

An understanding of the effects of different types of recreation activities can greatly help with conservation efforts. This becomes more important as recreation preferences among visitors change over time or as new recreation activities are developed. This can assist with resolving conflicts among user groups and developing a plan to balance visitor needs with conservation efforts. 

Assessing Management Options 

Analyzing options for managing the effects of recreation and determining whether they are successful can better help us plan for the future. By manipulating management activities and creating experimental designs simulating realistic management alternatives, we could revolutionize the balance between outdoor use and conservation efforts. 

Recommendations and Future Conservation Possibilities 

With a better scientific understanding of how outdoor recreation affects or undermines the biodiversity of public lands and natural resources, we can better navigate the trade-offs of conservation efforts, and limit conflicts between outdoor recreation and conservation goals. We need a better archive of scientific data and research in areas that contribute to outdoor recreation ecology, and that inform our conservation efforts of biological resources in protected areas. By monitoring visitor patterns, identifying thresholds of disturbance, comparing recreation activities, and assessing land management options, we can begin to build a better resource library that future members of the outdoor recreation industry can turn to. 

Want to Learn More About Conservation Efforts in the Outdoor Recreation Industry?  

If you’re interested in learning more about conservation efforts of natural resources and public lands, and how that shapes the outdoor recreation industry, then keep reading our blog at Advanced Outdoor Solutions. At Advanced Outdoor Solutions, we research, analyze, and present the latest trends and data in outdoor activities so that you can stay up to date on the latest trends and data that impact your business. 
We also offer those in the industry land planning, design, development, and turnkey third-party management solutions throughout Delaware, DC, and SW Florida. To learn more about these services, call us today at 1-800-579-9796 or contact us online.