Outdoor Recreation in the Shifting Societal Landscape of the South

Key Findings from the Southern Forest Futures Project Technical Report

Swimming at Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest. Photo by U.S. Forest Service.

The Southern Forest Futures Project Technical Report provides an interdisciplinary assessment of potential futures of southern forests and the many benefits they provide. The Southern Forest Futures Project (SFFP) started in 2008 as an effort to study and understand the various forces reshaping the forests across the 13 states of the Southeast. Chartered by the U.S. Forest Service Southern Region and Southern Research Station (SRS) , along with the Southern Group of State Foresters, the project examines a variety of possible futures and how they might shape forests and their many ecosystems and values.

Information about outdoor recreation presented in Chapter 7 of the technical report are adapted from data, analyses, and reporting developed by SRS emeritus scientist Ken Cordell for the Forest Service 2010 Renewable Resources Planning Act Assessment. The chapter includes extensive analyses and key findings, as well as maps and graphs.

Selected Key Findings:

  • With moderate growth, the population of the United States is projected to exceed 447 million people by 2060, an increase of more than 47 percent. For the same period, projected growth for the South is nearly 60 percent. Of the 13 Southern States, Florida, Virginia, and Texas are projected to grow faster than the South-wide rate.
  • Less than 5 percent of Federal land, about 30.5 million acres, is in the South, 44 percent of which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
  • The South has just over 12 Federal recreation facilities per million people, or about 1 facility per 83,000 people, according to the Recreation Information Database maintained by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
  • One overriding recreation trend seems clear—what people now choose to do for outdoor recreation is different from choices made by and available to previous generations. Fishing and hunting, often considered widely popular and among the more traditional of outdoor activities, are still somewhat popular but are being replaced by other activities such as wildlife or bird watching and photography.
  • Of the most popular activities in the South (which has more than 30 million recreation activity participants), the top six activities from the most recent surveys are walking for pleasure, family gatherings outdoors, gardening or landscaping, viewing/photographing natural scenery, sightseeing, and visiting outdoor nature centers.
  • Among activities having fewer than 10 million participants, camping at primitive sites, big game hunting, waterskiing, using personal watercraft, and equestrian activities were at the top and showed some growth. Kayaking was the fastest growing of these activities by a wide margin, followed by other water-based activities such as waterskiing and canoeing.
  • Residents of most counties in the South have access to fewer than 1.5 acres of public land per person within 75 miles of their home county, except for relatively more accessibility in the Ozark Highlands and Virginia mountains.
  • The pattern of non-Federal forest across counties shows that much of the South has abundant forest land area, but when expressed on a per capita basis, some of the metropolitan areas are found to have relatively little forest land close by.
  • Federal and State park land area is expected to remain relatively constant over time. Currently in the South, 5 percent of the total area is Federal or State park land, less than 0.3 acres per person. By 2060, the Federal or State park land area per person is projected to decrease to 0.17 acres, about 63 percent of the 2008 level. Because of population growth, the projected decline is greater for the South than the Nation.
  • Total non-Federal forest land area is expected to change with continuing conversions from forests and farmlands to cities and suburbs. Currently, more than 30 percent of total land area in the South is non-Federal forest, or 1.66 acres per person. By 2060, per capita non-Federal forest is predicted to decline to 0.95 acres per person, or 57 percent of the 2010 level. The projected decline is greater for the South than the Nation due to both population growth and increased development.

The complete list of key findings as well as narrative and maps are available in Chapter 7 of the SFFP report .

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