Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Forest and Conservation Science

Department or School/College

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Wayne A. Freimund

Commitee Members

Elizabeth Covelli Metcalf, Jennifer Thomsen, Douglas Dalenberg, Robin Saha


Belonging, Brazil, Connectedness, outdoor experience, pro-environment behavior, Protected Areas


University of Montana


Park managers in Brazil have recently understood the power of recreational experiences to stimulate a relationship with nature and commitment to its conservation. In their discourse, the central supposition is that those connected to nature and feeling a sense of belonging to nature tend to be more mindful of the environment and more supportive of nature conservation. However, providing visitation opportunities that effectively facilitate visitor experiences in nature has been a managers' lonely endeavor dependent on their skills and beliefs about visitation and no clear visitation policy. Therefore, this study aimed at providing a theoretical base and empirically tested frameworks to collaborate with their efforts.

A visitor relationship with nature was explored by examining two constructs: nature connectedness and nature belongingness. This research contends that an outdoor experience in a protected area strengthens that relationship and stimulates intentions to behave proenvironmentally. In this study, pro-environment behavior intentions were measured as general conservation behavior intentions (related to everyday life) and park-specific conservation behaviors. The study used a mixed-methods approach, and data were collected at Serra dos Órgãos National Park, a Brazilian protected area in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in July and August 2018. The quantitative section used a pretest-posttest design. Pre-visit and post-visit surveys were applied to the same Parnaso's visitors to measure the impact of an experience in the park on their relationship with nature. The qualitative phase was completed using two different methods of data collection: an open-ended questionnaire applied during the experience in the park using the Experience Sampling Method and a follow-up interview one week after the trip, applied to a subsample of participants.

Results demonstrated that both connectedness and belongingness positively influence intentions to behave pro-environmentally and that those intentions significantly improved after the park experience. Moreover, those who frequently visit protected areas tend to have more intentions to act pro-environmentally than those who do not. Results also showed that most participants acknowledged that each experience in a protected area strengthens their relationship with nature. The aspects of the experience considered most important to strengthen connectedness and belongingness were the excellent Parnaso's conservation status, the welcoming and friendly environment, and the availability and diversity of activities and services to support visitation. Those aspects allowed visitors to have more profound experiences, feel immersed in nature, and have a sense of wellbeing they could only feel in that kind of environment. Status of conservation and support for visitation helped participants pay attention to the park's nature, interact with it, and learn from it, opening space to a greater awareness of the person-nature relationship. Participants realized and valorized that the park was fulfilling its mission by protecting a natural heritage that belongs to everyone, allowing people to experience that conserved environment by organizing the structures and staff to welcome visitors.

Those results are highly illustrative of the importance of visitation to stimulate visitor's support for conservation and may inspire Brazilian protected area agencies and managers.

Available for download on Friday, June 24, 2022



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