Skiers in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.
U.S. Forest Service
Providing recreation opportunities is a key ecosystem service from national forests, and recreation is the number-one driver of economic activity from the use of national forest resources. However, a constant challenge facing public land managers is understanding the amount and character of recreation use on public lands. Onsite visitor monitoring efforts, such as the Forest Service National Visitor Use Monitoring Program, are invaluable in providing information on public lands recreation. The vast extent of public land, and the cost of implementing such programs, however, limits the spatial and temporal coverage that is possible from onsite monitoring efforts.
In response, Eric White, a research social scientist with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, and his colleagues are testing approaches that supplement traditional monitoring data with information from social media platforms to measure and describe recreation use at finer spatial and temporal scales.
In the first year of this research project, the scientists found strong correspondence between counts of recreation use from social media data (i.e., Flickr photos and trail reports on the Washington Trails Association website) and traditional onsite counting methods (e.g., mechanical traffic counters and observation) of trail use. Year-one findings are being used to expand the research on the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest to other types of recreation sites and to identify potential study locations in other Forest Service regions.
This new line of research has the potential to provide timely estimates of recreation use and recreation visitor behavior at spatial resolutions not currently available in Forest Service recreation monitoring programs. That information gives resource managers and policymakers information that can be used in decisions about how to allocate scarce recreation resources and identify potential issues with resource damage.