Each year an estimated 180 million visitors recreate on national forests and grasslands. In order to serve the needs of these millions of people, the Forest Service manages an existing investment of approximately $4.1 billion in outdoor recreation infrastructure. Recreation is also a key economic driver, representing an estimated 60% of the national forest service’s total contribution to the United States gross domestic product (GDP) — significantly more than logging and other resource extraction activities combined.
But even though it’s a major player on our national forests and grasslands, recreation isn’t a significant focus of the planning rules that drive how these public lands are managed.
Through the forest service’s public comment period, The Wilderness Society requested that recreation be made a focus of forest management plans, reflective of the critical role recreation plays on our public lands and thereby ensuring that all Americans are able to enjoy our national forests and grasslands for generations to come.
The Wilderness Society made a number of recommendations in a letter submitted to the forest service, here are a few highlights from the recreation section:
- Establish a purpose statement — TWS recommends that this purpose be to “facilitate a broad spectrum of Americans to enjoy national forests and grasslands while minimizing conflicts among users and ensuring the protections of water, wildlife, cultural resources, wilderness qualities and other resources.”
- Understand what recreation looks like on the ground and in each national forest, including existing recreation activities, needs for both independent and assisted recreational experiences, the ecological and social capacity of the land to meet those needs, impacts of other non-recreation activities on the ability to meet the recreational needs, and how recreation plays out in a regional context.
- Plan for connections with regional and local transit, including trail systems, and understand how visitors may travel to and from the forest.
- Designate recreation zones — such as “backcountry primitive” or “community interface” — that will be managed for specific recreational use goals.
- Identify the minimum road system necessary to meet recreational needs and keep off-road vehicles on designated routes.
Want to get involved? Attend a Roundtable in your area.
The Forest Service has a tremendous opportunity to highlight and direct recreational opportunities on our public forests. Recreation is by far the most popular and widespread use of our national forests and grasslands. It has an incredible power to connect people to our public lands and to nurture lifelong support for those lands and agencies like the Forest Service that manage them. In order to preserve the opportunity to experience and connect to nature on our public lands, the Forest Service must prioritize and plan for recreation. These recommendations will ensure that national forests and grasslands provide quality recreational experiences long into the future.
With the United States’ population continuing to grow at a steady pace, development and sprawl will continue to encroach upon our public lands. We can only assume that there will be even more of a premium on our public lands in the future as a place for people to hike, camp and river raft, enjoy time among the mountains with their family and just get away from it all. The Wilderness Society is working to ensure that national forests will continue to be able to provide this benefit for generations to come.
photo: Family enjoying fall hiking in Washington. Photo by Holly Werran, Courtesy REI.