Recently, the US Forest Service sought public input on its National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) survey. This survey is a vital, but imperfect way to measure how people use our national forests. In our comments, Outdoor Alliance applauds the Agency for its intentions and suggests critical improvements to the survey.
In five-year intervals for the last two decades, the Forest Service has conducted the NVUM survey, seeking information about the number, recreation activities and satisfaction of visitors. These sorts of data are critical to the mission of the Agency, especially under the guidance of the new Planning Rule.
However, the current NVUM survey does not accurately capture modern recreation activities and experiences. Rock climbing, for example, is not an available activity choice. Also, respondents must choose between a mix of activities (like cycling) and experiences (like relaxation). In reality, activities lead to experiences, so these should be two different categories.
But most importantly, the survey’s random sampling technique results in an under-representation of human powered recreation. As we all know, climbing, paddling, hiking, mountain biking and backcountry skiing do not happen randomly. We enjoy these activities most when the temperatures are right and the trails are dry, or during releases and powder days. By missing these times, the survey can erroneously determine there are none of us out there.
In order to be improved, the survey should collect a more representative sample of visitors; more precisely categorize the data; and give more guidance on how to use the data. Outdoor Alliance suggests drawing on existing sources of data, like American Whitewater’s National Whitewater River Inventory, as well as allowing users to submit information electronically.
We are excited to partner with the Forest Service to improve this critically important survey. Our full comment letter is available here.