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The Variability of User-Based Social Impact Standards for Wilderness Management

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A key element of wilderness management planning is prescribing standards for acceptable levels of impact or change to wilderness conditions based on input from the public. Specifically, to obtain standards for social impacts, wilderness users are surveyed to determine acceptable levels of encounters with other parties. Using a variance components model and generalizability analysis, this study examines four sources of variation in user-based social impact standards: occasion (on-site vs. mailback surveys), wilderness area, encounter context (type and location of encounter), and respondent. Data come from a survey of visitors to four wilderness areas. Results indicate that social impact standards are generalizable across wilderness areas and to a lesser degree across measurement occasions. As expected, social impact standards vary depending on the context of contact. Contrary to normative theory in sociology, standards are also highly variable across respondents. These results suggest that respondents appear to share a high level of sensitivity to encounters, but that the task of assigning a numerical standard may be too abstract or hypothetical to be meaningful. Generalizability coefficients are reported to provide guidelines to future researchers and wilderness managers for obtaining user-based standards. For. Sci. 38(4):738-756.

Keywords: Generalizability theory; encounter norms; limits of acceptable change; visitor impact management; wilderness

Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station

Publication date: November 1, 1992

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