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TitleThe State of the Great Outdoors
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Page 1

Margaret Walls | Sarah Darley | Juha Siikamäki

America’s Parks, Public Lands, and
Recreation Resources

The State of
the Great Outdoors

SEPTEMBER 2009

Page 2

2 THE STATE OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Table of Contents

1 Preface

4 Executive Summary

10 Chapter 1: Introduction

14 Chapter 2: Supply of Recreational Resources,

Public Lands, and Open Space

38 Chapter 3: Demand for Outdoor Recreation

62 Chapter 4: Funding and Financing of

Conservation Lands, Parks, and Open Space

88 Chapter 5: Major Changes over the Past Quarter

Century and Directions for the Future

92 References

Page 50

48 THE STATE OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS

The declines are thought to be attributable, in varying

degrees, to four factors: the urbanization of the

population; the loss of open space on the urban fringe

to residential and commercial development—open

space that once provided important wildlife habitat

and hunting areas; decreasing amounts of leisure time,

especially leisure time that comes in large enough blocks

of time to allow for hunting and fishing (Godbey 2009);

and competing opportunities for leisure. In addition,

the problem has accumulated over time as adults who

once hunted no longer have time and do not pass

the knowledge and interest on to their children. The

hunting community refers to this as the recruitment and

retention problem. Nelson (2008) cites analysis of the

FHWAR data showing that though both the recruitment

rate and the retention rate have fallen in recent years,

those declines have been far larger among urban hunters

than rural ones, and that urban areas account for only 45

percent of all hunters but 77 percent of the total adult

population.



The reasons urban residents are less likely to hunt are

probably attributable to several factors, but lack of

access is key. Private lands are critical for hunting—

studies show that more than half of all hunting takes

place on private lands. The loss of these lands to

The decline in fishing and hunting—particularly hunting—

has been well documented and much discussed. In

addition to the results from the FHWAR survey, studies

have shown declines in hunting and fishing licenses.

Other surveys of participation have also documented

declines (see the discussion of the Outdoor Foundation

survey below). Industry reports drops in sales of

equipment, and anecdotal evidence abounds that

participation in hunting is much lower than it used to

be. The declines have been so sharp that even popular

media and mainstream publications have covered the

topic in recent years.6

To some observers, this trend is a matter of serious

concern. Hunters and fishers are considered to be the

earliest conservationists and important stewards of the

environment. Their volunteer time and donations on

behalf of conservation are well known.7 Moreover, excise

taxes on hunting and fishing equipment, as well as duck

stamps, support a number of important conservation

programs, which we discuss later.

6 See, for example, Clayton 2005 and Poole 2007.

7 One of the largest national land trusts, Ducks Unlimited, was started by waterfowl hunters.
The organization claims that 90 percent of its members today are hunters (see www.ducks.org/
hunting).

Source: U.S. DOI Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Census Bureau 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007.

Days Per Capita Spent Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Watching (FHWAR Survey)FIGURE 3-11

D
a
ys

p
e
r

C
a
p

it
a

Fishing Hunting Wildlife Watching

1991 1996 2001 2006

2.02

2.32

1.95

1.72

.93 .95
.80

.73

1.35

1.16
1.30

1.17

0

0.5

1

1.5

2

2.5

Page 51

DEMAND FOR OUTDOOR RECREATION 49

Over the years, sample size has varied; the most

recent survey, conducted in 2005 to 2008, has 19,186

respondents. The responses are weighted to represent

the general population.

In Figure 3-12, we show trends in the participation rate

for several wildlife-associated activities from the NSRE

surveys. The data indicate that the proportion of the

population participating in fishing and hunting activities

has essentially held steady over the past 25 years.

However, participation in bird-watching has notably

increased. In the early 1980s, according to the NSRE, 12

percent of Americans participated in bird-watching, and

by 2008 some 35 percent did so.

The NSRE participation rates for hunting and fishing

are far above those obtained by the FHWAR, as shown

in Figure 3-10. Fully 33 percent of respondents to the

NSRE reported that they had been fishing in the past

year in the 2005 to 2008 survey, but only 13 percent

of respondents to the 2006 FHWAR survey did so.

The participation rates for hunting are 12 percent for

the NSRE and 5 percent for the FHWAR survey. Only

bird- and wildlife-watching show similar rates across

the surveys, but because watching wildlife generally is a

broader category, we would expect participation rates to

be greater than for bird-watching.11 The trends exhibited

in the two graphs also diverge. Fishing and hunting

participation rates stay relatively constant between

1982 and 2008 in the NSRE and even increase between

1994 and 2008. By contrast, the FHWAR survey shows a

downward trend between 1991 and 2006.

Figure 3-13 shows participation rate trends for seven

other outdoor activities from the NSRE. Between

1982 and 2008, most activities held relatively constant

or increased. Walking, bicycling, and day hiking all

increased significantly: walking by 31 percentage points,

to 84 percent; day hiking by 18, to 32 percent; and

bicycling by 7, to 39 percent. All seven activities had

reported participation rates in the latest survey (2005

to 2008) equal to or greater than those in the 1982 to

1983 survey.

Some authors have used the NSRE data to explore how

participation has changed among various subgroups

based on demographics and other factors. Cordell

11 The FHWAR survey asks for information on residential and nonresidential—more than a quarter
mile from home—wildlife-viewing activities so it is fairly inclusive; for example, feeding birds or
other wildlife in the backyard is included. The bird-watching question on the NSRE has varied
slightly among the surveys—in the 1994 to 1995 survey, it explicitly asked about trips more
than 15 minutes from home, but the most recent survey simply asked if the respondent viewed,
identified, or photographed birds without specifying a location.

development on the urban fringe means that hunters

have to go farther to hunt. Many sites are also now

fee based, which further restricts access, especially to

moderate- and lower-income households.8 Access to

BLM and Forest Service lands can also be a problem.

Hunters report issues with some lands being off-limits

to hunting—for example, closures at national wildlife

refuges, access blocked by private properties, and

inadequate roads (D.J. Case and Associates 2009).



These trends for hunting could foreshadow some

problems with other nature-based activities that

require both significant amounts of time and access to

particular resources—kayaking, backpacking, camping,

and rock climbing, to name just a few.

National Survey on Recreation and
the Environment (NSRE)
The National Survey on Recreation and the Environment,

or NSRE, represents the continuation of the National

Recreation Survey (NRS) series. Begun in 1960 by the

Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission,

the first NRS was a home-based survey of outdoor

recreation participation in the United States. Since that

time, eight additional surveys have been conducted

(1965, 1970, 1972, 1977, 1982 to 1983, 1994 to 1995, 1999

to 2002, and 2005 to 2008). Since 1994, the NSRE has

been conducted as a telephone survey.9 The NSRE is a

partnership between the Research and Development

Branch of the U.S. Forest Service; the Coastal and

Ocean Resource Economics Program of the National

Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the University

of Tennessee Department of Forestry, Wildlife, and

Fisheries; and the University of Georgia Warnell School

of Forest and Natural Resources.10

Data collection methodology has varied slightly over

the years, as have portions of survey content. Current

versions require respondents to recall whether or

not they participated in particular recreation activities

over the previous 12 months. The NSRE also collects

information on the number of days spent participating

in an activity and the number of trips taken where

the primary purpose was a certain activity. Any

part of a day spent participating counts as a full day.

8 To address this issue, Congress included the Open Fields program in the 2008 Farm Bill, which
provides $50 million over four years for states to implement programs that will pay private
landowners for public hunting rights.

9 The 1960, 1965, and 1982 interviews were conducted in person. The 1970 survey was mailed,
and the 1977 survey was conducted by telephone.

10 Other agencies and interests help sponsor and conduct the NSRE at various times, including
the BLM, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard, states, and nongovernmental
organizations. For a description of the NSRE, list of survey questions, and reports of findings,
see http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/trends/Nsre/nsre2.html.

Page 99

———. 2008. Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies: FY2009

Appropriations. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report

RL34461, April 25, 2008. Washington, DC: CRS.

Vincent, Carol Hardy, Betsy A. Cody, M. Lynne Corn, Ross W.

Gorte, Sandra L. Johnson, and David Whiteman. 2001. Federal

Land Management Agencies: Background on Land and Resource

Management. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for

Congress, February 27. Washington, DC: CRS.

Vincent, Carol Hardy, Robert Bamberger, David M. Bearden, et

al. 2008. Interior Environment and Related Agencies: FY2008

Appropriations. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for

Congress, order code RL34461. Washington, DC: CRS.

http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL34461_20080425.pdf.

Walls, Margaret. 2009. Parks and Recreation in the United States:

Local Parks Backgrounder. Backgrounder (June). Washington, DC:

Resources for the Future. www.rff.org/rff/documents/RFF-BCK-

ORRG_Local%20Parks.pdf.

Walls, Margaret, Juha Siikamäki, Sarah Darley, Jeff Ferris, and Joe

Maher. 2009a. Current Challenges, Funding, and Popularity Trends

in Local Parks and Recreation Areas: Responses to a Survey of Park

Directors. Backgrounder (March). Washington, DC: Resources for the

Future. www.rff.org/RFF/Documents/RFF-BCK-ORRG_UrbanSurvey.

pdf (accessed July 8, 2009).

———. 2009b. Current Challenges, Funding, and Popularity Trends

in State Parks and Recreation Areas: Responses to a Survey of Park

Directors. Backgrounder (March). Washington, DC: Resources for the

Future. www.rff.org/RFF/Documents/RFF-BCK-ORRG_StateSurvey.

pdf (accessed July 8, 2009).

Wells, Nancy M. and Kristi S. Lekies. 2006. Nature and the Life

Course: Pathways from Childhood Nature Experiences to Adult

Environmentalism. Children,Youth, and Environments 16: 1–24.

Wildlife Management Institute. 2008. Senate Committee

Holds Hearing on OHV Use. Outdoor News Bulletin.

www.wildlifemanagementinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_

content&view=article&id=267:ohv-use&catid=34:ONB%20

Articles&Itemid=54.

Zinn, Jeffrey. 2005. Land and Water Conservation Fund: Current

Status and Issues. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for

Congress, June 10. Washington, DC: CRS.

———. 2009a. NLCS Factsheet. February 11. Washington, DC: Bureau

of Land Management, U.S. DOI. www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/blm_

special_areas/NLCS/fact_sheet.html (accessed July 6, 2009).

———. 2009b. Secretary Salazar Announces $750 Million Investment

to Restore and Protect America’s National Parks, Create Jobs.

Interior Recovery News Release, National Park Service Office of

Communications and Public Affairs. Washington, DC: U.S. DOI.

www.doi.gov/news/09_News_Releases/042209.html.

———. 2009c. Fact Sheet on the BLM’s Management of Livestock

Grazing. Washington, DC: Bureau of Land Management, U.S. DOI

(August). www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/prog/grazing.1.html.

U.S. DOI (Department of the Interior) Fish and Wildlife Service

and U.S. Census Bureau. 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007. FHWAR Study.

Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior. www.census.gov/

prod/www/abs/fishing.html.

U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). 1995. Federal

Guidance for the Establishment, Use and Operation of Mitigation

Banks. Federal Register 60(228): 58605–58614, November 28.

———. 2009. Mitigation Banking Factsheet: Compensating for Impacts

to Wetlands and Streams. January 12, 2009. www.epa.gov/owow/

wetlands/facts/fact16.html (accessed April 28, 2009).

U.S. GAO (Government Accountability Office). 2008. Wildlife

Refuges: Changes in Funding, Staffing, and Other Factors Create

Concerns about Future Sustainability. Report No. GAO-08-797.

September. Washington, DC: U.S. GAO.

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Assessment Synthesis Team. Climate Change Impacts on the United

States: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and

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Parks to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Change. USGS Fact Sheet FS-

095-02. Washington, DC: USGS.

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Related Agencies. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report

RL31006, updated November 9, 2001. Washington, DC: CRS.

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Printed on Chorus Art Silk, an FSC certified

paper that has 50% recycled content,

25% of which is post consumer waste, and

is also elemental chlorine free (EFC).

Page 100

98 THE STATE OF THE GREAT OUTDOORS

© 2009 Resources for the Future.

All rights reserved.

Resources for the Future

1616 P Street, NW

Washington, DC 20036-1400

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonpartisan

think tank that, through its social science research, enables

policymakers and stakeholders to make better, more informed

decisions about energy, environmental, natural resource, and

public health issues. RFF neither lobbies nor takes positions on

specific legislative or regulatory proposals.

Additional Resources

This report and a collection of background papers produced in

support of the Outdoor Resources Review Group can be found at

www.rff.org/ORRGpubs.

The final report of the Outdoor Resources Review Group can be

found at www.orrgroup.org.

Production Credits

• Editors: Helen Glenn Court, Felicia Day, and Adrienne Foerster

• Design and Production: Rock Creek Strategic Marketing

• Photo Services: National Geographic Society, BLM/Eastern States,

J. Barry Gooch, SCDNR

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