Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Stephen F. McCool

Commitee Members

Michael Patterson, Martin Nie, Len Broberg, Daniel R. Williams


national forests, off-road vehicle, outdoor recreation, public lands, allocation, recreation management


University of Montana


While demand for outdoor recreation experiences on national forests is increasing, many existing recreation allocations on national forests are outdated or jeopardize the environment. Accordingly, the U.S. Forest Service is revisiting recreation allocations on many national forests. The Forest Service is not guided by any clear policy regarding the appropriate method or rationale for making allocations between incompatible experience opportunities, or what criteria should be considered in allocating particular trails and areas. Instead individual decisionmakers must make judgments between competing claims advanced by different types of recreationists.

This project was designed to facilitate understanding of the claims that recreationists make to national forests, in an attempt provide decisionmakers and stakeholders a way to think clearly about the foundations and implications of the claims that they make and hear. To accomplish this, I executed a discourse analysis case study on the Gallatin National Forest. In addition to contextual research, I conducted, coded, and analyzed semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 35 hikers and off-road vehicle (ORV) drivers in south-central Montana.

The study indicated that the claims and views of hikers and ORV drivers differed in a number of important ways. First, most hikers stated that national forests should be managed to protect the natural environment, while most ORV drivers stated that the national forests should be managed for multiple uses, including ORV driving. Second, most hikers claimed that ORV impacts on the natural environment are significant enough to necessitate reductions in allocations to driving; most ORV drivers believed the impacts of ORVs and other types of forest recreation to be similar and nonsignificant. While specific claims varied within the two groups, hikers and ORV drivers embedded their claims in consistent and contrasting narratives which elided the contradictions and limitations of specific claims to support general propositions to the effect that allocation to their use should be prioritized.

Judicious allocation of national forest recreation opportunities depends upon improved understanding of and articulation of claims. This study offers a conceptual framework for considering claims with the hope of improving the coherency, transparency, credibility, and wisdom of recreation allocations.



© Copyright 2009 John C. Adams