Sustaining Visitor Use in Protected Areas: Future Opportunities in Recreation Ecology Research Based on the USA Experience

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Environmental Management

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Recreation ecology, the study of environmental consequences of outdoor recreation activities and their effective management, is a relatively new field of scientific study having emerged over the last 50 years. During this time, numerous studies have improved our understanding of how use-related, environmental and managerial factors affect ecological conditions and processes. Most studies have focused on vegetation and soil responses to recreation-related trampling on trails and recreation sites using indicators such as percent vegetation cover and exposed mineral soil. This applied approach has and will continue to yield important information for land managers. However, for the field to advance, more attention needs to be given to other ecosystem attributes and to the larger aspects of environmental conservation occurring at landscape scales. This article is an effort at initiating a dialog on needed advances in the field. We begin by reviewing broadly generalizable knowledge of recreation ecology, to separate what is known from research gaps. Then, based on the authors' perspective of research in the USA and North America, several research directions are suggested as essential for continued progress in this field including theoretical development, broadening scale, integration with other disciplines, and examination of synergistic effects.

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