USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research Topics


Sound business practices require that we know our customers' needs and strive to meet them. The recreation research conducted by the Pacific Southwest Research Station focuses on identifying and responding to the needs of recreationists on public wildlands in the U.S.

Of the over 30 million people living in California, 93 percent reside in urban areas. With less leisure time and disposable income most are recreating close to home, many on urban-proximate public wildlands. And as the numbers of recreationists in urban-proximate wildland areas have increased, so have the conflicts related to incompatible land uses and demands. Projected population increases within the state reflect an increasingly ethnically and racially diverse constituency base. Yet, not all taxpayers are visiting the National Forests, with some ethnic and racial groups seriously underrepresented. We are responding to the need to serve the large urban populations adjacent to forests and parklands and the increasingly ethnically and racially diverse constituency base they represent.

Major Research Initiatives:

Changing Recreation Patterns Studies will examine the meaning and forms of leisure among various cultural groups (forest constituents and non-users), and the benefits derived from leisure activities (especially those from outdoor recreation sites). Some of these studies will specifically examine measurement issues, place meaning and attachment, customer service, and marketing. Studies will focus on underlying current and future recreation trends, and also on patterns related to age, income, and ethnicity. Diffusion of recreation trends will be examined further as will service delivery issues related to shifting uses.

Research Highlights
  • Preliminary information was collected from off-highway vehicle users that can be used to understand some OHV users and initiate strategies to improve recreation opportunities for this outdoor recreation group.
  • The unit is integrally involved in a pilot project to apply marketing and customer service principles to recreation fee demo projects throughout the United States.
  • Our national research on mountain biking, as a technological innovation, has provided strategies for addressing resource damage and conflict among user groups.
  • The unit coordinated a socioeconomic assessment of 26 counties in southern California, linked to the Southern California Conservation Strategy.
  • Managers should provide extensive day-use oriented facilities for ethnically diverse visitors.
  • Managers should provide informational programs tailored specifically to ethnically diverse visitors.
  • Managers should use multiple language brochures and signage to create an "ethnic-friendly" ambience.
  • An abridged annotated bibliography was compiled for researchers and practitioners interested in the relationship between ethnicity and recreation.
  • Tips for serving Latino populations on public lands.
  • Attitudes toward fees are generally supportive of the Forest Service's management of public lands.
  • Geocaching participants have environmentally responsible attitudes and derive both social and personal benefits from the experience of the activity, and managers need to seek to understand this new potential support group.
  • Research on geocaching provides insights into this new visitor group.

Communication: A series of studies on techniques of communication in natural resources will be conducted, with the end goal of matching techniques to varying and diverse publics. Communication networks, information needs, and interpretation and environmental education services will be examined in order to understand their operation and the implications for agency-public communication.

Research Highlights
  • Communication tips for managers in Willamette National Forest are available.
  • An annotated bibliography was compiled for researchers and practitioners interested in environmental risk communication.
  • Early unit research was essential in the development of an on-site environmental education program designed to address communication needs of ethnically diverse riparian recreationists.
  • A series of studies on the use of negative and positive wording within messages in signs is being conducted, with a focus on finding the most effective and appropriate wording for natural resource settings.
  • Visitor center users seek many types of experiences and have diverse information needs and communication patterns. Research results are being applied in the design and planning of information services.
  • Some International Symbols (graphical symbols depicting ideas without words) used on National Forests may need modification to clarify the intended message--perhaps with accompanying text.
  • Visitors often seek out and use interpretive information found at recreation sites.
Social Aspects of Fire: Research will examine social impacts due to fire and fire management in the urban-wildland interface. Studies will examine values, attitudes and behaviors of recreationists, the general population in regions surrounding fireprone ecosystems, recreation residence owners, and year-round residents. We will provide information and management tools related to constituent perceptions about fire suppression, post-fire forest health issues, beliefs about recreation activities, beliefs about human health and safety, and beliefs about impacts to fire-prone ecosystems in the wildland-urban interface (including smoke).

Behaviors and Conflict: Studies will examine attitudes, values, behaviors, conflict, recreation participation, and decision-making. These will focus on underlying attitudes and values towards natural resources as well as behaviors, especially in recreation settings. Techniques to increase environmentally responsible actions will be explored. Some studies will examine barriers to recreational participation and conflicts, while others will explore approaches to addressing these issues.

Research Highlights
  • Research on barriers to participation in outdoor recreation revealed perceptions that nearby destinations are too crowded, few friends go to these sites, and potential visitors don't know where to go or what to do once they get to a site.
  • Managers of OHV areas described bridge building actions as both "used most often" and "most effective" in mitigating resource conflicts.
  • A report was completed on carrying capacity for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the results have helped managers revise their lake management plan.
  • Correlates for successful management of crime and violence were highlighted in a research study.
  • Urban crimes are encroaching on National Forest lands as indicated by a study of selected sites in the Western United States. Some of these crimes are quite costly to manage in terms of finances, personnel time, and personal impacts to employees.
  • Approaches to implementing interventions to protect threatened and endangered species should incorporate information about any constraints or considerations that directly affect management choices.
  • The management of habitat for threatened and endangered species should be tailored to the specific information needs and interests of publics.
  • Research on visitor preferences helped design picnic areas such as Applewhite on the San Bernardino National Forest, ensuring that customer needs are met while protecting the natural resources.
Research conducted by: