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The Carrying Capacity of Wild Lands for Recreation

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As increasing numbers of recreationists visit wild lands, some values are so diminished that many people have wondered if these lands have maximum carrying capacities at which recreational use should be limited. This study analyzes the carrying-capacity problem in terms of (1) the impact of the recreational environment on people, (2) the impact of people on the recreational environment, and (3) management procedures to modify these reciprocal impacts. The study includes an analysis of the human as well as the ecological and management considerations that must go into administrative decisions to limit recreational use. It also evaluates the probable effects of crowding on satisfaction of the needs and desires that motivate wildland activities. Ecological considerations include an experiment in which recreational foot traffic was simulated on a series of vegetated plots. Management considerations include zoning, engineering, interpretation, and persuasion. Ten conclusions are given. Among these are: (1) Recreational carrying capacity is not an absolute value inherent solely in the ecology and characteristics of each land area; (2) accepting limitation of use is only one of the costs that can be paid for quality recreation; (3) for some kinds of recreation, management procedures may permit high rates of use without a reduction in quality; and (4) relationships between vegetation, visitor use, and site factors can be described and used as tools for predicting the impact of visitors on recreation areas.
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Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: Leader of the cooperative recreation research unit of the Intermountain Forest & Range Experiment Station, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, located at Utah State University, Logan, Utah

Publication date: 1964-09-01

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2016 Impact Factor: 1.782 (Rank 17/64 in forestry)

    Average time from submission to first decision: 62.5 days*
    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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