Sustaining Forests

Public Recreational Access on Family Forest Lands

[photo:] Private forest land posted against public access in Minnesota. Photo credit: Dr. Michael Kilgore, University of MinnesotaResearch Issue

Participation in outdoor recreation in the US is increasing, while the amount of public land available for recreation remains largely static.  Given this trend, demand for outdoor recreation may not be able to be met by public lands alone.  Access to rural private lands has been promoted as one means of alleviating recreational pressure on public lands, and a variety of government-sponsored incentive programs have been created to promote public recreational access on private lands. However, concern is growing about the availability of private rural lands for recreational access due to land development trends and pressures and an increase in the number of landowners restricting access on their lands.  Private forests are an important component of the supply of public recreational opportunities. Yet, little is known about private forest landowner willingness to provide public recreational access to their lands.

Our Research

Using data from a national mail survey to private forest landowners (US Forest Service's National Woodland Owner Survey), we examined the following questions: (1) How prevalent is the provision of public recreational access on family forestland? (2) What influences whether a family forest owner allows public access? (3) Are there regional differences in the supply of public access?  Using data from the survey, we developed a statistical model to estimate the likelihood that a family forest landowner would allow public recreational access and to examine the influence that a variety of landowner characteristics might have on this decision.

Expected Outcomes

We found the provision of public access was modest, with 15% of respondents allowing it. Factors positively correlated with the provision of public access included owning more forestland, being a resident owner, owning an associated farm/ranch, participating in leasing or timber management activities, possessing a management plan, and allowing private recreational access. Negative factors included posting one's land against trespass, having privacy concerns, owning land for hunting, and being an older or more educated owner. Our results indicated regional differences in the provision of public recreational access.  Compared with landowners in the North, Southern landowners were less likely and Rocky Mountain landowners more likely to provide public access. The findings of regional differences in the provision of recreational access suggest that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be effective when working to develop policies, incentives, and programs designed to enhance public recreational access on private lands throughout the country. Our results also raise the question of whether family forest landowners are aware of or responsive to public access incentive programs.

Research Results

Snyder, Stephanie A.; Butler, Brett J. 2012. A national assessment of public recreational access on family forestlands in the United States. Journal of Forestry. 110(6): 318-327. 

Research Participants

  • Stephanie A. Snyder, Operations Research Analyst, US Forest Service -Northern Research Station
  • Brett J. Butler, Research Forester, US Forest Service - Northern Research Station
Last Modified: February 23, 2016