Visits to National Forests in Decline
A recent story in the Oregonian bolsters the argument that visits to national forests are in decline.
The article highlights the U.S. Forest Service's release of its most recent National Visitor Use Monitoring report, which can be found in its entirety here. Some of the quick facts found in the article:
- Total national forest visits dropped from 204.8 million in 2004 to 178.6 million in 2007
- Total visits in Region 6 (national forests in Oregon and Washington) fell from 28.2 million in 2004 to 20.5 million in 2007, a 27 percent drop.
- Visits to undeveloped national forest wilderness areas also dropped, from 8.8 million in 2004 to 6.3 million in 2007
Other statistics I found in the report:
- Hiking/Walking is the third-highest category of use (39.6 percent) that visitors participate in on national forests, ranking below Viewing Wildlife (40.1 percent) and Viewing Natural Features (51.0 percent)
- Hiking/Walking was also scored highest as the "primary activity" among national forest visitors (16.5 percent)
Before one reads too much into the declines, there is one caveat: the article mentions that some, but not all, of the declines may be attributed to the way the Forest Service now counts visitors (the last survey data was from 2004). Still, it's likely there was an actual drop in usage.
There are plenty of theories about why fewer people are visiting our public lands. Less leisure time. Fees and permits. Competition for the attention of youth from video games and other forms of recreation. Rising fuel costs. Whatever the cause, it's more important than ever that organizations such as WTA encourage folks to get out there and enjoy our national forests.
The key point is that if fewer people are getting out and enjoying our public lands, fewer people will be inclined to speak up for things like wilderness protection and trails funding. As the graph at right illustrates, fewer young people than those 40 and older are visiting National Forests. One of our tasks as hikers is to involve more young people and share the joy that wild country in the Cascades and Olympics provides.
Photo: Hiker on Table Mountain near Mount Baker. Photo by Mike Matson. Age distribution chart courtesy U.S. Forest Service.