Breath of Clarity

Desired Conditions, the Public and Policy- Impacts of Recreational Use

There are certain ways to determine whether desired conditions are realistic. The Interagency Visitor Use Management Council addressed the importance of tracking conditions over time (National Park Service). Outlining a method for tracking the conditions helps planners envision management strategies and quantify the desired conditions. Both consequences assist in revealing whether the desired conditions are realistic. Without the potential to provide a clear link for future management actions, desired conditions cannot be realistic (National Park Service).

Also, developing desired conditions for different zones can make them more realistic because managers can then offer a spectrum of opportunities to meet the needs of a broader array of diverse public interests (National Park Service). For example, looking at Pisgah National Forest in small pieces helped provide managers with a sustainable recreation focus based on resources and existing facilities (National Forests). The zoning strategy stems from the reality that not all areas have the same ecological sensitivity so some places require more protection than other places (National Park Service). Desired conditions of each place-based setting can be described by ecological, as well as social, components that help establish the niche emphasis (National Forests). Examples of description characteristics is information about the surface water, vegetation, wildlife, nearest communities, trail complexes, and heritage sites/cultural elements (National Forests). The next step is understanding the activities that typically take place at given locations as the desired conditions need to be achieved despite the impacts from all the types of recreational uses (National Forests). Public input from surveys and interviews can be useful to determine activity demands of the space in question. Another way to determine whether desired conditions are realistic is by putting mechanisms into play that secure finances that are necessary to bring them to fruition. For example, managers need to use a mosaic of funding sources and establish protocols for balancing program demands with available financial resources (National Forests). Finally, realistic desired conditions align with the area’s purpose, legislative mandate, unique values, and role in the regional context (National Park Service).

Both policy and public input play into determining whether desired conditions are realistic. The video (Glacier National Park 2017) illustrated that policies can make desired conditions more realistic with the example of it is illegal to be within 100 yards of any bear at Glacier National Park. Policies such as this increase the chance of achieving a desired condition to preserve wildlife populations because if a visitor cannot be within 100 yards of the animal then the person is less likely to take measures that disturb the wildlife. Additionally, the rule that requires people to set up their tents in designated camp sites reduces damage to vegetation in sensitive areas which very well may be a desired condition (Glacier National Park 2017). Further, the policy of not using soaps in lakes or streams helps make the desired condition of clean waters more realistic (Glacier National Park 2017). The ability for the policies to help make the desired conditions more realistic plays into the decision to officially declare them. Additionally, a public population that is willing to follow the regulations and spread the word to other visitors helps increase the chance of desired conditions being realistic. Desired conditions that implement the management strategy of using signage is much more effective with a visitor population that is telling hikers to check trailheads for any postings and reporting wildlife sitings to rangers as soon as possible (Glacier National Park 2017). Clearly, policy and public input both play a role during the formulation of desired conditions and after they are officially established. Achieving desired conditions is based on the ability of managers to successfully integrate policy and public input into every desired condition’s origination process.


Glacier National Park. 2017. “Backcountry Safety.” National Park Service. October 23rd.

National Forests. “Defining Nantahala and Pisgah NFs’ Sustainable Recreation Strategy.” Accessed May 10 2021.

National Park Service. “Interagency Visitor Use Management Council.” Accessed May 4, 2021.

Comment by Fenton Kay:

Mary this is a great post. I think you cover the ground very well. But, I have to hark back to budgets and the effort to gather the data that you have posited. Do you think zoning is a viable way to distribute the effort required to set really solid desired conditions that are realistic and achievable? Perhaps something like GPS and GIS as tools can help with the exercise and make the costs more bearable.

My Comment:

I agree with the feedback. Since GIS is generally less expensive, using it would create a greater chance of achieving the desired conditions. A cheaper method makes implementation of a management tactic more likely.

GIS has become an integral part of the work that water resource professionals do (Fox and Michelson 2010). It has enabled managers to set a higher bar for desired conditions that would not have been possible without the GIS. There is complexity in establishing the exact valuation of GIS (Fox and Michelson 2010). Consequentially, data collected from zoning versus GIS is difficult to precisely compare. The former can provide detailed wetland and community species information that is not possible with GIS (Fox and Michelson 2010). Also, since GIS systems are designed to suit users’ needs and budgets, similar applications at different sites may yield unique solutions depending on a number of variables (Fox and Michelson 2010). A comparison of GIS methods and non-GIS methods for some cost comparisons could be misleading (Fox and Michelson 2010). For example, while monitoring the success of wetland restoration projects, it would seem as though costs of each method could be itemized for comparison (Fox and Michelson 2010). However, project managers frequently piggy back several projects into a single field excursion, spreading the costs and maximizing the information gained per trip (Fox and Michelson 2010). Additionally, parts of the GIS system, such as the imagery, may have been purchased for a different project altogether which would make it difficult to assign a cost for the secondary use (Fox and Michelson 2010). At the same time, GIS value can include nonmarket benefits (Fox and Michelson 2010). This is an area where research support could help in better recognizing the contributions of GIS and in justifying resources for the method (Fox and Michelson 2010). Moreover, sometimes the full value of spatial data may not become apparent until many years have passed (Fox and Michelson 2010). Additionally, data developed and paid for by one agency that is made freely available to others will have a higher end value than may be readily measurable (Fox and Michelson 2010). At the end of the day, a resounding comment from water resource professionals that resonated with me is: GIS allows managers to do things they could not do before, which complicates the process of valuation (Fox and Michelson 2010).

That which is difficult to measure about GIS is probably predominantly related to its unforeseen benefits. So, my recommendation is to leverage GIS as much as possible.


Fox, Sandra and Ari Michelson. 2010. “The Value of GIS for Water Resources”. Water Resource IMPACT. 12(1): 3-4.

Comment by Jenny Kelley:

I really enjoyed reading your post! Your conclusion that policy and public input both play a role in realistic desired conditions goals is excellent. In much of what you wrote I also was reminded of our discussions on the importance of education – as your example of using signs. With a well educated public, the “why” of any regulation or restriction is much more palatable. Most people I do believe are more willing to follow such rules when they understand why they are there. For instance, as you mentioned, proximity to bear restrictions in order to decrease the disturbance of wildlife or regulations in order to keep the desired condition of healthy vegetation within the ecosystem of the park. I also think determining desired conditions is such an important step for management because reversing the access to an activity is hard. For example, if a park allows motor boats or atvs and then, based on information due to wildlife disturbance or pollution, reverses that activity, there may be real issues with some members of the public who believe their rights are being taken from them.

Great post!

My Comment:

Thanks for drawing the connection between examples from the post and your insights. The last statement about visitors believing their rights are being taken from them is interesting. I found a paper about how the recreational activity of bear viewing at Yellowstone has changed significantly over the last century due to management (Richardson et al. 2015). The first paragraph of the report goes into detail about how management policy has changed overtime (Richardson et al. 2015). The researchers incorporated visitor surveys to help better understand visitor demands of recreational activity and perceptions of management decisions (Richardson et al. 2015). They noted that surveys can also help to inform visitors about park policies (Richardson et al. 2015). Results from these surveys indicated that visitors place high economic value on bear-viewing opportunities (Richardson et al. 2015). Responses to a contingent visitation question indicate that some visitors would change the number of trips they take to Yellowstone throughout the year if bears were no longer allowed to stay along roadside habitats (Richardson et al. 2015).


Richardson, L., Gunther, K., Rosen, T., & Schwartz, C. 2015. “Visitor Perceptions of Roadside Bear Viewing and Management in Yellowstone National Park”. The George Wright Forum, 32(3), 299-307.