Social Carrying Capacity

2559 Words Apr 14th, 2011 11 Pages
Social Carrying Capacity

The use of parks and protected areas by visitors creates concern about appropriate levels of use because there are limits that define how much pressure from outside forces an ecosystem can endure before it experiences degradation, and there are thresholds that define visitor experiences. When researchers, park authorities, and policy makers are trying to determine appropriate usage levels of specific areas, they frequently rely on the rationale of carrying capacity, including social carrying capacity, which “focuses on the relationships among users of a park or protected area” (Dearden & Rollins).

Prior to determining the carrying capacity of a specific area, it is important to define carrying capacity. Prior
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For example, what amount of visitor use of a specific area should be allowed, regardless of the ecological impact, before overcrowding is considered to have occurred and management intervention is needed? The optimum approach to social carrying capacity management mirrors Shelby and Heberlein’s (1986) method for both ecological and social carrying capacity: • Specify management parameters for a specific area • Specify impact parameters relevant to that area; and • Collect data at regular intervals to describe the current situation

Appropriate management includes defining the type of visitor experience to be made available and then monitoring the situation to measure if acceptable conditions have been achieved (Graefe et al., 1990). For example, a park or protected area may have an objective that includes social conditions, such as providing visitors with seclusion. This qualitative objective is beneficial, but it is ambiguous; therefore, it fails to provide management with what constitutes “providing visitors with seclusion,” and how is “seclusion” measured? The number of encounters with other people while in a given area could be a suitable indicator of seclusion; therefore, research involving the number of encounters with other people could determine if an area is “providing visitors with seclusion.” For
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