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Capacity Reconsidered: Finding Consensus and Clarifying Differences

Doug Whittaker, Bo Shelby, Robert Manning, David Cole, Glen Haas

Abstract


In a world where populations and resource demands continue to grow, there is a long history of concern about the “capacity” of the environment to support human uses, including timber, rangelands, fish and wildlife, and recreation. In the context of recreation, work on visitor capacities has evolved considerably since the late 1960s as a result of environmental planning, court proceedings, recreation management practice, and recreation research. This paper documents the “state-of-knowledge” understanding of capacity among our group of long-term professionals, who represent a wide range of experience and perspectives. The paper defines capacity as “the amount and type of use that is compatible with the management prescription for an area,” and elaborates on the elements of that definition. The main body of the paper describes 34 agreements about the larger planning context, the definition of capacity, benefits of capacity, indicators and standards, and the roles of these concepts in resource planning and management. The final section identifies issues needing resolution, including four “differences we resolved” and five “differences that remain”, and also includes our individual perspectives on these issues. This paper is not the “definitive statement,” on visitor capacity, and we trust others will contribute to this on-going dialogue as agencies, the courts, academics, and resource professionals work to resolve capacity issues. We hope our work adds clarity, advances understanding, helps guide application of efforts designed to address capacity, and encourages others to contribute their ideas.

Keywords


Visitor capacity; carrying capacity; recreation planning; use limits

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