Recreation Equity: Is the Forest Service Serving Its Diverse Publics?

How to cite this study

Flores, D., Falco, G., Roberts, N.S., and Valenzuela III, F.P. 2018. Recreation Equity: Is the Forest Service Serving Its Diverse Publics? Journal of Forestry 116(3): 266-272.


Across the U.S., racial and ethnic minorities visit national forests much less than white counterparts from neighboring counties. This disparity is the most pronounced in areas with the highest share of minorities living nearby, suggesting a significant need for creative outreach efforts.


This study is relevant for those hoping to motivate efforts to increase the participation of racial and ethnic minorities in outdoor recreation.


National Forest units in the contiguous U.S.

Trail Type

This study uses data from National Forest units across the country.


The purpose of this study is to evaluate whether the U.S. Forest Service lands are serving racial and ethnic minorities at the same rate as white residents.

The authors are U.S. Forest Service employees; no outside funding sources are identified.


  • While 35% of people living within 50 miles of a national forest boundary are nonwhite, 12% of people visiting national forests are nonwhite.
  • The Rocky Mountain, Southwestern, and Intermountain Regions (2, 3, and 4) all had equity gaps greater than 30 percentage points, meaning there are more than 30 percentage points fewer minorities visiting national forest lands than one would expect from local demographics. Interestingly, these regions are also the most racially diverse.
  • The Northern and Eastern regions had the smallest equity gaps (-6.7 and -12.0).
  • Looking at specific racial groups, blacks are represented the most poorly (1.2% of national forest visitors versus 13.2% of the U.S. population). Asian residents are the best represented (2.6% of national forest visitors and 5.3% of the U.S. population).
  • The authors suggest more deliberate outreach to minority groups including hiring more racially diverse staff can help to close the representation gap.


The authors combine data from the National Visitor Use Monitoring survey and 2010 Census data for the racial and ethnic composition of people living within 50 miles of a national forest boundary.

For each national forest unit the authors calculated an inequity index, which is the ratio of racial and ethnic minorities using the national forest to racial and ethnic minorities who live within 50 miles. A value less than zero indicates that a smaller proportion of national forest visitors are minorities than one would expect given neighboring counties’ demographics.

Added to library on April 4, 2019