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.
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.
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.