Who uses our national forests?


When we hike or fish on federal forestland, we see the people around us, but it’s hard to tell in any comprehensive way how that forestland is being used or who’s using the land. But the U.S. Forest Service recently released a survey that shows how many people are visiting our country’s national forests and the demographics of those visitors.

Here is a press release about the survey results, and you can go here to crunch the numbers for yourself. The results are fascinating and come to conclusions that most people wouldn’t expect. Did you know, for example, that a lot of older women visit the Columbia River Gorge?

From the Oregonian:

The typical Oregon forest visitor is most likely a white, male, baby boomer on a day trip. In many of the forests, about two-thirds of visitors are male. But the gorge national scenic area, which stretches 85 miles east from Troutdale to The Dalles, is a striking exception: 48.5 percent of visitors are women.

“You set up at any of the (gorge) hiking trails, and what you see on any given day is a carload or two of a whole lot of gray-haired ladies,” Frayer said.

Taking a look at Region 6, which covers Washington and Oregon (20 national forests in all), here are the top five most visited national forests, in terms of number of visitors:

  • Deschutes: 1.89 million visitors
  • Mt. Hood: 1.83 million visitors
  • Columbia River Gorge: 1.81 million visitors
  • Wenatchee: 1.4 million
  • Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie: 1.37 million

Another interesting conclusion: some minority groups aren’t visiting the national forests nearly as much as they’re growing in population.

From the Oregonian:

Other data is puzzling, Frayer said. The Latino population in Oregon has increased dramatically — rising 63 percent in 10 years, according to the 2010 Census — but there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in Latino visitors to the forests. Latinos make up only 2.9 percent of visitors to the Mount Hood National Forest despite its proximity to Gresham and East Portland, which have heavily Latino neighborhoods.

“If the back door is to Mount Hood, and they’re not going there — the question is why,” Frayer said.

But forestry also continues to be a critical use, according to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

While the survey emphasizes the economic impact of recreation, forest service Chief Tidwell said commercial use of the national forests — primarily logging — is important as well. Thinning operations, for example, can reduce the threat of catastrophic fire that might burn through popular recreation sites.

“It takes a certain level of active management, and one of the benefits is to maintain these beautiful settings,” he said.