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Hockett 4 14

Hockett 4 14

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USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-4. 2000
In: Cole, David N.; McCool, Stephen F.; Borrie, William T.; O’Loughlin,Jennifer, comps. 2000. Wilderness science in a time of change conference— Volume 4: Wilderness visitors, experiences, and visitor management; 1999May 23–27; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-4. Ogden, UT: U.S.Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.Karen S. Hockett is a Graduate Student, and Troy E. Hall is an AssistantProfessor, Department of Forestry, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061U.S.A.
Visitors’ Knowledge of Federal Wilderness:Implications for Wilderness User Researchand Management
Karen S. HockettTroy E. Hall
 —Earlier research using interviews of backcountry hikersin Shenandoah National Park raised concerns that visitors may notknow much about federal wilderness. This lack of knowledge hasimplications for research on wilderness experience and for supportfor wilderness management policies. In this study, self-assessedknowledge of wilderness, researcher-assessed knowledge, and knowl-edge filter questions were tested for their effectiveness in classifyingwilderness knowledge; relationships between knowledge and atti-tudes toward management were also explored. More than 90% of hikers assessed themselves as having little or no knowledge of wilderness, and a researcher-assessed knowledge question con-firmed that very few hikers were knowledgeable about federallydesignated Wildernesses. Those with higher levels of knowledgetended to hold more “purist” views about management than thosewith less knowledge.
During interviews of backcountry and wilderness users inShenandoah National Park (SNP) in the fall of 1997, it became obvious that Park visitors did not have a clear ideaof what federally designated wilderness was and where itwas located. When respondents were asked whether or notthey had ever been to a federal wilderness, most (83%)answered affirmatively, but follow-up questions revealedthat many respondents included national parks and nonwil-derness areas. Only about 25% of the park visitors inter-viewed appeared to be truly knowledgeable about whether or not they had been to a federal wilderness area before.This issue concerned us, because we felt that managersand researchers often assume that visitors share their highly developed comprehension of wilderness. Nearly allwilderness user studies ask questions about past use of wilderness, appropriate conditions in wilderness, or supportfor wilderness actions or policies. When questions ask spe-cifically and only about the site where visitors are contacted,it may not matter that many do not know where wilder-nesses are or how they are managed. But when questions ask about generic “wilderness,” it may matter a great deal. Wehave little idea of whether respondents’ answers are basedon a clear conception of wilderness or whether they areanswering about their local state parks (or other areas),which they incorrectly believe to be wilderness.Reviewing numerous wilderness visitor studies, we couldfind very few that asked a filter question about knowledge before they begin detailed questions about past use of wil-derness, support for wilderness management policies or other issues. Almost none provided information about the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) to re-spondents. If respondents and researchers have very differ-ent conceptions of what wilderness is and where it is located,inferences made from the results of these types of questionsmay be incorrect.Such concerns led us to study the issue in more depth. Tomore clearly understand the wilderness experience levelsand knowledge of Shenandoah backcountry visitors, weincluded several questions during research in 1998. We wereinterested in two questions. First, do SNP hikers know whatfederally classified wilderness is? We approached this issueusing a self-report and a single objective measure. Second,do hikers who know more about federally classified wilder-ness differ in their opinions about wilderness managementissues from hikers who know little or nothing?
Study Area and Sample Population
This research was conducted in Shenandoah NationalPark (SNP). This park contains nearly 80,000 acres of federally designated wilderness, established in 1976. Thereis also a large amount of undeveloped backcountry notlegally classified as wilderness. Due to its close proximityto the Washington, DC, area and the popularity of thenationally known Skyline Drive and Appalachian Trail,the SNP backcountry receives one of the highest backcoun-try and overnight use densities in the national park sys-tem. There were an estimated 1.7 million backcountryvisitors in 1995 (Shenandoah National Park 1998). Our study population was defined as all adult visitors (•16years) to SNP backcountry and wilderness areas betweenMay 10 and October 31, 1998.
Survey Development
To address our two research questions, several itemswere included in a mail survey sent to visitors contacted atSNP during 1998 as part of a backcountry visitor surveyconducted for the Park. Previous interviews with SNPvisitors had indicated that although many visitors seemed
USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-4. 2000
certain that they had been to a wilderness area before,others seemed to realize their knowledge limitations. Typi-cal responses were: “not knowingly;” “uh, probably, yeah;”and “yeah, I believe so.” Others named a place they had been, but then followed up their response by asking theinterviewer if that was a wilderness area. Therefore, onesurvey question in this study asked visitors to indicate howfamiliar they felt they were with the legal definition of wilderness (table 1). This question appeared in a section prefaced by the following statement. “Over the past 35years, Congress has passed legislation creating a system of federally designated wilderness areas on public lands inthe United States. We are interested in whether the legal
Table 1
—Survey questions addressing knowledge of wilderness.How familiar are you with the legal definition of Wilderness?I have no idea—I didn’t even know there was a land classification of “Wilderness.”I have heard of Wilderness areas, but I don’t know anything about the specific definition.I know a little bit about what legally classified Wilderness is.I think I know a lot about the legal definition of Wilderness.Please list the three most recent wilderness areas (other than in Shenandoah) that you have visited. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ How often do you usually take wilderness trips? (Mark one.)I’ve never been to a wilderness.I don’t know what wilderness is, so I don’t know if I’ve been or not.Less than once every 2 years2-5 times a yeaLess than once a year6-10 times a yeaOnce a yearMore than 10 times a yeaThe following is a list of policies that could be adopted for wilderness areas. Please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with eachstatement as a general policy for federal wildernesses in the United States. Please answer even if you are not sure about the legal definition of wilderness.
People should be allowed to carry cellular phones into the wildernessto use in case of an emergency.+2+1012People should not be allowed to carry cellular phones into thewilderness because technology detracts from the wildernessexperience.+2+1012Trails in wilderness areas should be almost nonexistent, only blazedor marked routes.+2+1012Trails in wildernesses should be of varied type and quality in differentplaces, to satisfy varied interests.+2+1012 All wilderness trails should be improved and well-maintained.+2+10–1–2There should be no trails, and no other human influence at all inwildernesses.+2+1012Moderate improvement of wilderness campsites is desirable (e.g.,removing brush and limbs, putting nails in trees for utensils, simplebox cupboards, etc.)+2+1012Lightning-caused fires in wilderness should be allowed to burn.+2+1012Places in wilderness denuded by fire, insects, or disease should beprotected by replanting vegetation.+2+1012Heavy infestations of native insects in wilderness should be allowedto run their course.+2+1012Hunting should be forbidden in wilderness areas.+2+1012Wilderness managers should be allowed to use chainsaws to clear debris from wilderness trails.+2+1012Wildernesses should have few rules and regulations to ensure visitor freedom.+2+1012Mountain bikes should be allowed in wilderness areas.+2+1012
definitions are consistent with visitors’ ideas about whatwilderness is and should be.” The first questions (notreported here) asked about “your personal sense or defini-tion of wilderness—what “wilderness” means to you,” in-cluding items about best example and characteristics of wilderness. The question reported here followed thosequestions, and asked “How familiar are you with the legaldefinition of wilderness?” Because the majority answered,and because many gave responses showing they wereuncertain, we believe visitors are able and willing to assesstheir own knowledge level.Data from the self-assessment provided one measure of knowledge. As a check on its validity, respondents who said
USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-15-VOL-4. 2000
that they had been to a wilderness before were asked to listthe three most recent wilderness areas they had visited.(This question was in a section about “use of wildernessareas in the United States” and did not specify “legallyclassified.” We believe that the prior questions about knowl-edge of legal wilderness probably cued respondents to bethinking of federal wilderness, but it is possible that theyhad a different idea in mind.) For analytic purposes, theareas respondents listed were sorted into three categories. If a respondent correctly listed federal wildernesses, and onlyfederal wildernesses, they were classified as “knowledge-able.” Those who listed no federal wilderness areas wereclassified as “unaware.” Those who listed some wildernessesand some nonwilderness areas were classified as “mixed.” Inthis process, we opted to code ambiguous areas generously.For example, “Mount Rainier”—which has both wildernessand nonwilderness—was coded as a wilderness, even thoughthe respondent might not be thinking about the wilderness portion of the park when answering. However,
de facto
wilderness areas, such as the Yellowstone backcountry or the Grand Canyon, were coded as incorrect because they donot contain federally designated wilderness.Another question asked about respondents’ use of wilder-ness, using common categories for the frequency of trips.This question enabled us to discern how many respondentswill answer such a question even if they themselves do notthink they know what a wilderness is. (This item was in thesame section as the previous question about most recentwilderness visits, and did not specifically instruct them toanswer for “legally classified” wilderness.) We included anovel option in this question: “I don’t know what wildernessis, so I don’t know if I’ve ever been or not.” We wondered if respondents who, in a prior question had indicated knowingnothing about wilderness, would select this option.To test whether respondents with different levels of knowl-edge differed in their opinions on wilderness management,a set of 14 policy items was presented. Respondents wereasked to indicate how much they personally agreed or disagreed with each item as a general policy for federalwildernesses in the United States, regardless of whether or not they were sure about the legal definition of wilderness.
Survey Administration
On randomly sampled days between May and October 1998, all visitors entering or exiting 23 sample trailheadswere contacted and asked to complete a short contact sheet.In order to increase our sample of overnight users, visitorsseeking backcountry camping permits at entrance stationsand visitor centers were also asked to complete the short on-site survey during sample periods. Data were obtained for approximately 2,400 visitors (1,620 day and 782 overnight).Following the Dillman (1978) method, mail surveys weresent to those who had provided names and addresses (n =1,660). After a postcard reminder and a second surveymailing, 856 usable surveys were returned, for a responserate of 51%.
Self-Assessed Wilderness Knowledge
Responses to the self-assessment of knowledge revealedthat the vast majority of users (>90%) believed that theyknew at best only a little about what legally classifiedwilderness is (table 2). Most had only heard the term.SNP visitors clearly do not feel they are very knowledge-able about federal wilderness, but this did not prevent themfrom answering the question about how often they usuallytake wilderness trips. Only 3% volunteered that they hadnever been to a wilderness area before, and in the filter response category only 10% said that they did not know whatwilderness was, so they could not say whether or not theyhad been to one (table 3). Twenty percent indicated that theytypically take more than six trips per year to wildernessareas. If people do not know what a wilderness area is andconsider any state park or national park to be wilderness,this could be a gross overestimation of their actual number of trips to wilderness.It is of particular concern that even those visitors who tellus that they know nothing about wilderness will answer suchquestions. Only 18% of this group selected the filter option weexpected them to mark. Almost 75% reported some frequencyof wilderness trips. Thus, we cannot expect those who do notunderstand the intent behind questions about wilderness toleave such items blank. This finding is consistent with a large body of public opinion research that has found that people willanswer questions even about issues of which they have littleor no knowledge (Bishop and others 1986; Hippler and Schwarz1989; Schuman and Presser 1980).
Researcher-Assessed Knowledge
Self-reports are only one measure of knowledge. To fur-ther understand whether SNP hikers know what wildernessis, those who reported having made a wilderness trip in the previous question were asked to name the three most recentwilderness areas they had visited. As discussed previously,the responses were coded as knowledgeable (named onlyunits of the NWPS), mixed (named at least one wildernessand one nonwilderness) and unaware (named only nonwil-derness areas). It is important to note that the question
Table 2
—Self-assessed knowledge of federal wilderness among SNP hikers.
Self-assessed wilderness knowledgePercent
I have no ideaI didnt even know there was a land classification of wilderness.9.8I have heard of Wilderness areas, but I don’t know anything about the specific definition.51.3I know a little bit about what legally classified Wilderness is.31.5I think I know a lot about the legal definition of Wilderness.7.4

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