This Land is Our Land

This Land Is Our Land


Michael J. Bradley
Department of Recreation and Park Administration
Eastern Kentucky University

Hung-Ling Liu
Leisure Studies
Oklahoma State University

Tatiana Chalkidou
American College of Greece

I-Chun Wu
Leisure Studies
Oklahoma State University

 

Abstract

In April 2010, President Barack Obama signed into action the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, a program designed to preserve many natural resources in the United States for future generations and enhance the connection between individuals and natural areas. The idea of creating or enhancing personal connections with nature, while not entirely novel or new, has witnessed a recent increase in emphasis and increased importance. The state of Oklahoma, with a diverse geographic features and abundant natural resources, provides great opportunity for Oklahoman to connect with nature. While there are many opportunities in Oklahoma, Oklahoman’s willingness to accept various preservation and place attachment programs is unknown. Therefore, the purpose of this research study was to identify Oklahoman’s level of agreement with the AGO and investigate what variables may attribute to increasing the connection between Oklahomans and natural areas. Results indicate that Oklahomans generally accept many of the AGO tenets, with levels of environmental ethics and a sense of attachment to these natural areas being major factors to ensuring a connection between an individual and the environment. Future research is necessary to identify specific methods to increase place attachment and environmental ethics of Oklahomans.

 

Introduction

The idea of creating or enhancing personal connections with nature and natural areas, while not entirely novel, has witnessed a recent increase in emphasis and increased importance. Many scholars, professionals, and enthusiasts have discussed and heralded the benefits of increased exposure to natural areas (Clements, 2004; Mayer & Frantz, 2004). However, such recent emphasis related to reconnecting with nature highlights the lack of such a connection (Louv, 2008). Programs and overall movements to reconnect children and adults with nature therefore have gained increased attention. Recent significant growth of outdoor recreation activity in the United States is heralded by many (Outdoor Industry Association, 2014), perhaps a result of renewed attention to individual connection with natural areas.

While such trends of amplified outdoor recreation are an encouraging and have positive health and wellness impacts, increased use of natural areas merits discussion of the management of these resources for long-term, sustainable use. As outdoor recreation and connections to natural areas increases, so does the need for sustainable practices and stewardship related to these resources. As has been discussed within many popular and academic publications, specific natural areas are extensively overused and lacking sustainable programs to support natural resource management (Burns, 2013; Ryan & Montgomery, 1994). While initiatives to mitigate overuse and degradation continues at these already damaged sites, progressive and forward-thinking policy development and education may help to conserve and sustain places where outdoor recreation popularity continues to grow (More, 2002).

As previously stated, enriching the connection between individuals and nature and managing such resources for sustainable use is important as more individuals use these resources for various purposes. To support programs, services, and leaders that combine these two issues, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative (AGO) addressing the 21st Century conservation and recreation agenda (Obama, 2010). Specifically, the AGO identified the need to support American’s connection to the natural world, but also emphasized the need to develop policy and education to ensure that such resources are managed as sustainable outdoor recreation outlets.

The AGO, a program designed to preserve many natural resources in the United States for future generations, supported policies, programs, and efforts to enhance the connection between individuals and natural areas (Obama, 2010). Managed by the Department of the Interior, the purpose of the initiative was to cultivate a plan for conservation and recreation developed with and by the American people. Through local grassroots efforts, the Obama administration sought to improve conservation policies as well as develop and improve connections between the federal, state, local, and tribal governments. Specifically, the AGO federal project highlighted eleven tenets as seen in Table 1.


Table 1.  America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Included Tenets

AGO Statement

AGO 1

Provide quality jobs, career pathways, and service opportunities in outdoor recreation.

AGO 2

Enhance recreational access and opportunities.

AGO 3

Raise awareness of the value and benefits of the outdoors.

AGO 4

Engage young people in conservation.

AGO 5

Strengthen the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

AGO 6

Establish urban parks and community green spaces.

AGO 7

Conserve rural working farms, ranches, and forests through partnerships and incentives.

AGO 9

Conserve and restore our National Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Forests, and other federal lands and waters.

AGO 10

Protect and renew rivers and other waters.

AGO 11

Make the federal government a more effective conservation partner.


Seen within those statements is a focus on creating and fostering a connection between people and the natural environment as well as instilling a sense of environmental ethics in current and upcoming generations of U.S. citizens. As noted in the AGO tenets, environmental ethics and the connection between people and places are pivotal in the conservation of natural areas.

Noted as being the emotional and physical connection between a person and place, place attachment also extends to the psychological or perceived unity of a person and the geographical environment (Genereux, Ward, & Russell, 1983). As reported in research by Bow and Buys (2003), Rollero and Piccoli (2010), and Bradley, Liu, Wu, and Chalkidou (2013), a person’s attachment to place may affect how an individual interacts with specific natural areas and perhaps give insight to the level of support an individual might provide to AGO and related initiatives and programs. Further, increased levels of environmental ethics may also provide understanding related to an individual’s willingness to support such initiatives.

As stated by Vardy and Grosch (1997), environmental ethics extend ethical consideration beyond humans to other animals, plants, and all non-living things. Extending consideration beyond humans within an ethical dilemma requires increased environmental awareness throughout all ethical decision-making processes. In efforts to further understanding between environmental ethics and pro-environmental behavior, several recent studies noted significant relationships between environmental ethics and both pro-environmental behavior and anti-environmental behavior ecological preservation (Manning, Valliere, & Minteer, 1999; Milfont, Duckitt, & Cameron, 2006). 

The primary themes of the AGO initiative are to increase environmental stewardship and personal connectedness to natural areas. As Maravilla (2012) reported, in places where environmental ethics are supported and visually apparent, stewardship increases. Further, visitors with higher levels of place attachment and environmental ethics have shown to aid in natural area management (Grimble& Wellard, 1997) and visitors also tend to support environmental stewardship (Kyle, Graefe, Manning, & Bacon, 2004). Therefore the purpose of this study is to identify Oklahoman’s level of agreement with the tenets included in the AGO initiative. Further, specific variables were investigated for correlations to levels of AGO agreement. Those variables included demographics, place attachment, and environmental ethics.

The state of Oklahoma, with a diverse geographic features and abundant natural resources, provides great opportunity for Oklahomans to connect with nature. To enhance understanding of Oklahoma citizens’ thoughts related to outdoor recreation initiatives, conservation, and sustainability management practices related to natural resources, the researchers developed this pilot study. This study identified Oklahoma residents’ levels of agreement with the AGO. Identifying Oklahomans’ levels of agreement with efforts to conserve and sustainably manage natural resources, as well as supporting and increasing Americans’ connection to nature is essential. Such information may aid policy development related to natural areas and outdoor recreation sustainability. This information may also identify areas where targeted education and programmatic efforts are necessary to properly inform and engage citizens as it relates to outdoor recreation and natural resources used for recreation.

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to identify Oklahoman’s level of agreement with the AGO and investigate what variables may attribute to such levels. To aid in this process, three specific instruments were used to elicit data related to Oklahoman’s agreement with AGO tenants, level of connectedness to natural areas within Oklahoma, and level of environmental ethics. Further, the study instrument included commonly used demographic questions to aid in analysis.

Methods

Oklahoma is generally divided into four regions: northwest, northeast, southwest, and southwest. Each site was selected to represent the geographic features and would allow for non-intrusive sampling. The four sites utilized for this study are noted in Table 2.

A total of 403 park visitors participated in the survey from Sequoyah State Park, Beaver’s Bend State Park, Quartz Mountain Arts Resort and Conference Center, and Boiling Springs State Park. The response rate of 57% and total adults approach for a participation per location is located in Table 2.


Table 2.  Site Visitation and Response Rates by Research Site

Region

Park Name

Total Days

Respondents Approached

Respondent Rejections

Surveys Completed

Response Rate

Northwest

Quartz Mountain Nature Park

9

128

73

55

0.43

Southwest

Beavers Bend

6

232

100

132

0.57

Northeast

Sequoyah

13

269

94

175

0.65

Southeast

Boiling Springs

6

82

41

41

0.50

 

Total

34

711

308

403

0.57


Materials & Design

A survey was developed to elicit the information necessary to identify Oklahomans’ demographic data, place attachment, environmental ethics, and AGO agreement. Demographic questions included in the survey are race, ethnicity, sex, age, education, income, distance traveled to the research site, and time elapsed since the visitor’s first visit to the research site. To identify the level of attachment for each visitor, a slightly modified version of Williams and Vaske’s (2003) place attachment instrument was used in this study. The instrument included 12 statements with the respondent identifying their level of agreement on a Likert-style scale for each statement. The modifications were solely to change the name of the place within the instrument. To elicit data related to a visitor’s level of environmental ethics, the updated New Environmental Paradigm (NEP) by Dunlap, Van Liere, Mertig, and Jones (2000) was used. Similar to the place attachment instrument, the updated NEP uses a Likert-style agreement scale to rate respondent’s perception to 15 environmental ethics statements. To identify levels of agreement with the ten major tenets of the AGO initiative, the researchers developed, tested, and included a scale for survey respondents to provide such information (Bradley, Liu, Wu, & Chalkidou, 2013). Each of the ten statements were listed and respondents were asked to rate their agreement with each statement within a Likert-style measurement. The place attachment, environmental ethics, and AGO aspects of the survey utilized a five-point Likert-type scale, with respondents rating each statement from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Procedure

Each research site was visited multiple times over a period of three months. The number of days research conducted on location at each site is located in Table 2. At each research site, every third known adult was approached for participation in the survey, to ensure random sampling of adults only. If the approached individual was not over the age of 18, the researcher approached the next adult and continued the skip counting approach to sampling. Sampling procedures were stratified through the days selected for solicitation (weekdays versus weekend days) and park nodes (lodge, day use areas, shorelines, etc.) visited during the solicitation process.

Results

Demographic Variables Analysis

The majority of the research participants were male (60.3%), white (84.6%), between 35 and 64 years of age, without bachelor’s degree, and annual income less than $100,000. Among non-white park visitors, Native Americans made up 12.2% of the respondent pool, followed by African Americans (2.0%), Asian Indian (0.5%), Japanese (0.2%), Korean (0.2%), and Filipino (0.2%).

Additionally, the types of visitors represented in this research study included day users (28.3%), RV campers (22.1%), tent campers (12.7%), lodge guests (19.6%), and cabin guests (5.7%). Research participants also provided information related to the longevity of visitation to the specific park research site. First time visitors represented 13.3% of the sampled population, with 39.9% of the repeat visitor population having first visited less than 5 years ago, 23.8% first visited 6-10 years ago, 11.7% first visited 11-25 years ago, and 10.9% having first visited the park 26 or more years ago. It is important to note that such data may not necessarily represent visitation frequency. Demographics of research participants are reported in Table 3.

Table 3. Demographic of Research Participants

Demographic Characteristics

Frequency

Percentage

Gender

     Male

243

60.3%

     Female

160

39.7%

Age

     18-24

16

4.0%

     25-34

61

15.1%

     35-44

74

18.4%

     45-54

71

17.6%

     55-64

84

20.8%

     65+

97

24.1%

Education       

     Less than bachelor’s degree

225

63.4%

     Bachelor’s degree or higher

130

36.6%

Race

     White

341

84.6%

     Non-white /Others

62

15.4%

Household Income

     ≤ $49,999

198

49.2%

     $50,000-99,000

174

43.2%

     ≥$100,000

31

7.6%


Regression Analysis

Regression analysis was used to provide information to identify how demographics, place attachment and environmental ethics affect general support for specific management of natural resources. First, the researchers developed a mean score regarding place attachment, environmental ethics, and AGO agreement for each respondent (Table 4). Using overall level of agreement with AGO as the dependent variable, regression analysis was used to determine if environmental ethics, place attachment and demographics were instrumental independent variables that might significantly affect Oklahomans’ AGO agreement. 

In regression analysis, the result of the first multiple regression analysis showed that the overall combination of park visitors’ place attachment and individuals’ environmental ethics successfully predict park visitors’ level of agreement on AGO statements. The model explained 8% of variables of AGO [R=.28, R2=.08; F(2, 352)=15.00, p<.001**]. The standardized coefficients of environmental ethics and place attachment were .22 (p<.001**) and .19 (p<.001**), respectively. Both environmental ethics and place attachment were statistically significant in predicting park visitors’ agreement of AGO statements. Additionally, when integrating park visitors’ demographics into the second regression model, the result showed that the combination of the environmental ethics, place attachment, and demographic variables, were statistically significant in predicting park visitors’ level of agreement with the AGO [R=.36, R2 =.13; F(2, 352)=10.72, p<.001**]. In the second model, the demographics of Oklahoma park visitors, especially age and gender, were able to increase the predictability of their agreement of AGO statements (∆R2 =.05, p<.001**).


Table 4. Visitor mean scores for Environmental Ethics, Place Attachment, and AGO

Factor

Mean

SD

Environmental Ethics

3.20

.87

Place Attachment

3.23

1.07

America’s Great Outdoors (AGO)

3.69

.69

Note: 1=Strongly Disagree, 3=Neutral, & 5=Strongly Agree  


Table 5 reports the standardized coefficients of the first and second regression model. Except education level, all other variables were statistically significant in the second regression model. The standardized coefficients of environmental ethics and place attachment were .15 (p=.002*) and .16 (p=.002*) respectively, which means that park visitors who reported higher scores on environmental ethics and place attachment tended to support the statements of AGO. On the contrary, the negative sign of age variable indicated that the older the park visitors were, the less agreement on AGO statements (β=-.15, p=.003*). The negative coefficient of gender variable showed that female park visitors were more likely to agree with the AGO statements than male visitors in Oklahoma (β=-.17, p=.001*). Park visitors’ level of education was not a significant variable in the regression model (β=.02, p=.664).  

Regression analysis provided valuable information, reporting place attachment and environmental ethics as significant variables in predicting respondent’s agreement with AGO initiatives. Specifically, as the individual’s place attachment and environmental ethics increase, so does their aggregated agreement with AGO statements. 


Table 5. Regression Analysis of Park Visitors’ Agreement of AGO   

 

Variables

Standardized coefficient (β)

Significant

Model 1

R=.28, R2=.08 (p<.001**)

 

Environmental ethics

.14

p=.001**

 

Place attachment

.22

p=.009**

Model 2

R=.37, R2=.13, ∆R2=.05 (p<.001**)

 

Environmental ethics

.15

p=.002**

 

Place attachment

.16

p=.003**

 

Age

-.15

p=.003**

 

Gender (dummy coding)

-.17

p=.001**

 

Education (dummy coding)

.02

       p=.664

 Note: 1. Gender (dummy coding): 0=female, 1=male

2. Education (dummy coding): 0= bachelor degree or higher, 1=less than bachelor degree

3. * p<.05 significant level; ** p<.01 significant level 


Discussion & Implications

Oklahomans generally accept the nature of the initiatives within America’s Great Outdoors (AGO), meaning Oklahomans will receive projects that generally fall within those categorical statements positively. Further, increased levels of place attachment and environmental ethics will further increase support for such projects. Supporting previous research (Tindall, Davies, & Mauboules, 2003), females reported higher levels of support for AGO than did males. There are mixed results in previous conservation studies that include age as an independent variable. In research by Adams (2014), age was not found to affect conservation practices. However, related research by Brounen, Kok, and Quigley (2012) reported decreased levels of conservation practices by older adults. Therefore, the unexpected findings from this study, that increased respondent age related to decreased AGO support, did have precedence in previous research. Education attainment was not a statistically significant factor of Oklahomans’ AGO agreement, but the variable was positively correlated (Table 5).

As various entities within Oklahoma consider projects to increase Oklahomans’ connectedness to natural areas and increase conservation efforts, such entities might consider ways to increase support for such projects. As found in this study, increasing levels of place attachment, environmental ethics, and higher levels of education were positively related to AGO agreement, however, a respondent’s education level was not found to be a significant factor when predicting AGO support. Analysis showed the correlation between AGO support and a respondent’s age and gender as statistically significant, indicating female and younger respondents were more likely to support AGO initiatives.

It is important for managers and stewards of natural areas to focus on variables that yield positive results in visitor conservation attitudes. While interpretation and similar efforts are notable, emphasizing education for the sake of increasing AGO support may warrant further discussion before implementation. Further, it may be unfeasible for managers of these natural areas to control variables such as age and gender. However, increasing a visitor’s place attachment and levels of environmental ethics are prospects for change. While increasing place attachment and environmental ethics requires a dynamic approach, yielded results are noteworthy.

Previous studies note that increasing place attachment and environmental ethics is a specific process unique the location, however, there are common traits among initiatives that were successful in this process (Manzo & Perkins, 2006). Further, past research has noted a multitude of other benefits to increased place attachment and environmental ethics of visitors. These include increased trust between visitors the land managers and increase civic engagement (Payton, Fulton, & Anderson, 2003), social and political activism (Manzo & Perkins, 2006), and community cohesion (Brown, Perkins, & Brown, 2004).

Limitations and Future Research

This research study is limited in scope and applicability due to the number of research sites (4), type of research sites (state parks), geography of sampling sites, and the study being solely in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has numerous natural and outdoor recreation areas throughout the state in addition to state parks and other states may benefit from similar research. While the information attained from this study is worthy and merits discussion, further research is needed to overcome these limitations.

Finding avenues to support the eleven America’s Great Outdoor tenets will likely increase support for projects related to conservation and connecting people to natural areas. While exploratory in nature, this study provides support for additional research. Additional studies should explore avenues of increasing place attachment and environmental ethics of natural areas in Oklahoma. Such information can provide information necessary to increase place attachment and environmental ethics, thus increasing support for AGO type projects and initiatives. Increasing place attachment and environmental ethics may require much investment of time and resources, but such exploratory investment may be worthy for projects that protect special and necessary natural areas. 


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