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Environmental justice in outdoor recreation

USDA Forest Service ‑ Southern Research Station

US Forest Service researcher Cassandra Johnson has collaborated with Myron Floyd from the University of Florida's Center for Tourism to define what environmental justice means for natural resource management. In a recent article in the journal Leisure Sciences, Floyd and Johnson, social scientist with the Southern Research Station (SRS) Trends in Recreation and Wilderness unit in Athens, Georgia, explore the research implications of applying environmental justice principles to outdoor recreation.

The environmental justice movement emerged in the U.S. in the early 1980s as evidence accumulated that low-income communities were more likely to be exposed to environmental hazards through the site selection of waste facilities or exposure to hazards in the workplace. The concept entered the context of outdoor recreation in 1994, when Executive Order 12898 directed federal agencies to develop environmental justice strategies and to identify patterns of natural resource use among minority and low-income populations.

'So far, there has been only limited inquiry into what environmental justice means in the context of recreation," said Johnson. "Environmental justice activities have centered on hazards, health risks, and undesirable land uses. Only recently have social scientists started looking at disparities in the delivery of recreation benefits."

In the Leisure Sciences article, Floyd and Johnson review the origins of environmental justice and the related concepts of environmental racism and environmental equity. They outline the research needed for adapting a concept primarily associated with health risk to the area of natural resource availability and accessibility.

Health risk and the availability of natural resources converge in the examples the authors provide from research on consumption patterns of fish caught from public waters. A study from Detroit found Native Americans and African Americans consuming significantly more fish caught on public lands-in both cases, exceeding the standards established to protect citizens from the toxins in contaminated waters. Another study on preference found that bottom feeding fish-which generally retain higher levels of toxins-were more likely to be consumed by low to moderate income minorities. Other issues, such as accessibility of resources and constraints to using them, are subtler.

"Issues of equality in allocating natural resources are moving to the forefront," said Johnson. "More attention must be given to defining the specific nature of racial discrimination in recreation and tourism in relation to environmental justice. The lack on clarity in defining these concepts is a major challenge to future research."


The full text of the Leisure Sciences article is available at

SRS researcher Cassandra Johnson studies human interactions with the natural environment and the outdoor recreational behavior and preferences of ethnic minority groups. Her 2001 article "Outdoor Recreation Constraints: An Examination of Race, Gender, and Rural Dwelling"-co-authored with J.M. Bowker and Ken Cordell from the Trends in Recreation and Wilderness unit-is also available in full text formats from the SRS website at

For more information: Cassandra Johnson at (706-559-4270) or

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