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A Review and Synthesis of Recreation Ecology Research Findings on Visitor Impacts to Wilderness and Protected Natural Areas

This article examines the recreation ecology literature most relevant to wilderness and backcountry, with a focus on visitor impacts to vegetation, soil, wildlife, and water resources.

by Jeffrey Marion, Ph.D., Federal Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey


Marion et al SOK Paper on Recreation Ecology 2016


The 50th anniversary of the US Wilderness Act of 1964 presents a worthy opportunity to review our collective knowledge on how recreation visitation affects wilderness and protected natural area resources. Studies of recreation impacts, examined within the recreation ecology field of study, have spanned 80 years and generated more than 1,200 citations. This article examines the recreation ecology literature most relevant to wilderness and backcountry, with a focus on visitor impacts to vegetation, soil, wildlife, and water resources. We also review relationships with influential factors, such as the amount of use, visitor behavior, and vegetation type. An understanding of these impacts and their relationships with influential factors is necessary for land managers seeking to identify acceptable limits of impact or selecting management actions that will effectively avoid or minimize resource impacts.

Published March 2016

About the Author

Jeff Marion is a Federal Scientist with the US Geological Survey, and is based out of Virginia Tech as an Adjunct Professor. His research specialty is Recreation Ecology, in which he investigates the environmental impacts of visitor use in protected natural areas, primarily national parks. His research has focused on visitor impacts to trails and campsites and the development of sustainable “Best Management Practices.” He was a founding member of the Leave No Trace Board of Directors, chaired the committee that guided development of the Leave No Trace principles and practices, and authored the LNT Center’s official book “Leave No Trace in the Outdoors.”

Contact: [email protected]

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