You are here

Recreating in color: Promoting racial and ethnic diversity in public land use

Date: May 31, 2018

Researchers are studying the wide disparity in racial and ethnic use of national forests. They hope their research will help managers measure forest utilization by different racial and ethnic groups across the National Forest System.


Background

Historically, racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are not as likely to recreate or work in the country’s natural lands as are racial whites. Data from the Forest Service’s National Visitor Use Monitoring program indicate disproportionate utilization of National Forest System recreation opportunities by the nation’s minority racial and ethnic groups. Past individual case studies conducted of regional areas have addressed constraints to outdoor recreation for racial and ethnic minority groups. This is the first study to examine equity of service across the entire National Forest System. 

Research

According to National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) program data in relation to 2010 U.S. Census: blacks or African Americans accounted for about 1 percent of national forest visits while Hispanics or Latinos, accounted for less than 6 percent. Non-Hispanic whites accounted for well over 90 percent of national forest visits.

Table: Inequity by Racial Minority Subgroup. Annual national forest visitation estimates. Total percentage is greater than 100% as survey respondents are allowed to identify themselves as belonging to more than one racial/ethnic group.
Table: Inequity by Racial Minority Subgroup. Annual national forest visitation estimates. Total percentage is greater than 100% as survey respondents are allowed to identify themselves as belonging to more than one racial/ethnic group.

Today, a team of scientists and experts is collecting and analyzing NVUM data to better understand the relatively low use of U.S. public lands by minority groups. David Flores, a social scientist with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in Fort Collins, Colorado, points toward historical exclusion, unfamiliarity with natural lands, distance, and cultural differences as reasons for disproportionate racial and ethnic use of natural lands. “As racial and ethnic minorities become a larger percentage of the population, it becomes more important to draw them into the conversation about how these lands are managed,” Flores explains.

Researchers at RMRS are studying these numbers systematically and hope their research will help National Forest System staff to develop systemic shifts in programing to connect racial and ethnic groups with public natural lands. By doing so, forest managers will be transforming management practices and priorities to encourage wider use of natural lands by different racial and ethnic groups. 

Key Findings

  • Recent research indicates disproportionate utilization of U.S. national forest recreation opportunities by several racial and ethnic minority groups.
  • Results from this analysis show a national average inequity gap of -23.8%.
  • From the perspective of public land management in the United States, these findings demonstrate the need for the Forest Service and other public land agencies to scrutinize and evaluate strategies that would enhance greater racial and ethnic inclusion.
  • The inequality index was recently adopted by the Southwestern Region of the Forest Service as a recreation performance measure through their 2014 Sustainable recreation Strategy.

Map shows comparison of minority percentages at local level with national forest utilization - demonstrating utilization imbalances.
Map shows comparison of minority percentages at local level with national forest utilization - demonstrating utilization imbalances.

Featured Publications

Flores, David ; Falco, Gennaro ; Roberts, Nina S. ; Valenzuela, Francisco P. III. , 2018


National Strategic Program Areas: 
Outdoor Recreation
National Priority Research Areas: 
Localized Needs
RMRS Science Program Areas: 
Human Dimensions
RMRS Strategic Priorities: 
Human-Landscape Interactions
Geography: 
National
Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Gennaro Falco, Carson National Forest, Tres Piedras, NM
Francisco P. Valenzuela III, Director of Sustainable Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness, Southwest Region
External Partners: 
Nina S. Roberts, Professor, Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism, San Francisco State University
Research Location: 
national