Operationalizing Sustainable Recreation across the National Forest System: A Qualitative Content Analysis of Six Regional Strategies
Steven W. Selin
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Sustainability, as an institutional and professional goal has gained momentum in the parks and recreation field over the past two decades. The scholarly literature has been dominated by articles contributing science-based management frameworks to inform agency decisions about sustainability. Needed also are action-oriented, case study research or evaluation
studies where the objective is to inductively generate grounded theory and best management practices by studying the phenomena in action. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to analyze the USDA Forest Services’ institutional goal of operationalizing Sustainable Recreation across the National Forest System. This study goal is informed by a literature synthesis of research focused on
sustainable science, sustainability constraints, and institutional change and transformation as well as background on the Forest Services’ Framework for Sustainable Recreation. The objectives of this research study were to develop a deeper understanding of the contextual factors, vision and goals, action steps, and performance measures associated with the Forest Services’ operationalizing
of their national Framework for Sustainable Recreation. Given the action oriented and applied focus agenda of this research, the research study employed a conventional, qualitative content analysis methodology to analyze six Regional Sustainable Recreation Strategies. Results from this qualitative content analysis provide an empirical window into how the USDA Forest Service is mobilizing
to integrate sustainability into their managed recreation operations. Study results elaborate two contrasting visions for managed recreation in the Forest Service—one a more limited vision of operating within agency budgetary limits and the other a more expansive vision of investing in the managed recreation program. The regional Sustainable Recreation Strategies studied here also
varied considerably in the level of specificity directed towards the forest-level operationalizing of sustainable recreation objectives and priority action steps. Study results also suggest that operationalizing sustainable recreation across the National Forest System will result in new types of recreation service delivery partnerships with external stakeholder groups to leverage scarce public dollars and to improve the level of service.
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