The Children & Nature Network (CNN) is an excellent source of information and research that supports the goals of the CREEC Network. A recent article cited by CNN, in IRIS, “How do Americans View Wilderness?” caught my eye. The Internet Research Information Series (IRIS) is an internet accessible science report series covering outdoor recreation statistics, wilderness research and other human dimensions and demographics research related to natural resources. This research is a collaborative effort between the USDA Forest Service’s Southern Research Station and its Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Athens, Georgia; the University of Georgia in Athens; and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. IRIS has been doing surveys about natural resources for decades. Surveys use a cross-sectional sample of non-institutionalized residents of the US, 16 years of age and older.
Basically this survey asked respondents to assess their Wilderness Values. The results were compared in the 1999-2000 and the 2006-2007 surveys.
First, respondents were asked to rate the importance of 13 Wilderness benefits:
Protecting water quality
Knowing that future generations will have Wilderness areas
Providing recreation opportunities
Protecting wildlife habitat
Providing spiritual inspiration
Preserving natural areas for scientific study
Preserving unique wild plants and animals
Knowing that in the future I will have the option to visit a Wilderness area or primitive area of my choice
Protecting air quality
Providing income for the tourist industry
Protecting rare and endangered species
Providing scenic beauty
Just knowing that Wilderness and primitive areas exist
Secondly, respondents were asked how they felt about the amount of federal land in the Wilderness System.
Very good news came out of this latest survey.
1. Since 1999-2000 Wilderness values have stayed high (in the 70th, 80th and 90th percentiles) with residents age 16 and older. Protecting air quality continues to be top on the list of concerns, 91% in 1999 and 93% in 2007. Having options to visit wilderness areas in the future rose three percentile points from 73.2 to 76.2. Providing recreation opportunities and preserving natural areas for science had significant percentile rises.
Overall, Americans ascribed high importance to Wilderness benefits. The only category that did not show importance was providing income for the tourist industry.
2. A comparison of the urban and rural communities values “unequivocally” showed no significant difference in wilderness values.
3. Comparisons of the four primary regions of the Country were made asking the question “Do the people living in these different regions have different opinions about Wilderness values? Significant differences were found in a few categories.
a. Protecting water quality was significantly higher in the Northeast and Southern region than in the other two regions of the Midwest and West.
b. Providing scenic beauty was highest in the Southern region.
c. Having the option to visit wilderness areas in the future was higher in the Western region.
d. Providing spiritual inspiration was significantly high in the Southern region.
4. Do citizens want more Wilderness? The responses to this question showed that more than two-thirds people somewhat strongly favor more Wilderness in the home state.
In summary, indications are that over the past decade citizens continue to support Wilderness allocation, view air and water quality as the most important aspects of Wilderness, there is virtually little difference in where people live that affects Wilderness values, and in many respects the value of Wilderness has become more important or stayed the same throughout the country.
These findings bode well with environmental groups and organizations such as CREEC. Environmental Education will continue to show increasing responses from the public. Thereby continuing the cycle of education, environmental concern, and individual commitment to saving Wilderness in the United States.
Written by: Kathy Havert
CREEC/Region 10 RIMS