Using Recreation Specialization to Understand Conservation Support

Article excerpt

Since Dunlap and Heffernan (1975) first explored the proposition of whether participation in outdoor recreation activities leads to increased environmental concerns and behaviors, others have also examined the relationship (e.g., Theodori, Luloff, & Willits, 1998; Van Liere & Noe, 1981). Except for a few (e.g., Jackson, 1986; Thapa & Graefe, 2003), however, empirical research has not provided definitive support for an association between outdoor recreation participation and conservation attitudes and behaviors.

Three main factors are commonly suggested for these inconsistent findings. First, the conceptual framework of aggregate recreational activities Classified simply as appreciative and consumptive (Dunlap & Heffernan, 1975) may not facilitate an understanding the heterogeneity of recreationists' conservation attitudes and behaviors (Tarrant & Green, 1999; Theodori et al., 1998). Such a simple classification likely fails to consider the extent of resource consumptiveness associated with particular recreational activities (Theodori et al., 1998).

Second, recreationists' within-group diversity such as socioeconomic or recreation specialization differences has usually been disregarded in previous studies (Tarrant & Green, 1999; Van Liere & Noe, 1981). Findings regarding the relationship between specialization and environmental concerns have indicated strong support for a relationship of increasing concerns for resource conservation by specialization level (e.g., Kauffman, 1984). Accordingly, more specialized recreationists are more aware of their own resource impacts and, subsequently, are likely to be more concerned with reducing adverse user impacts on natural resources (Ditton, Loomis, & Choi, 1992; Fisher, 1997). An examination based on a conventional assumption that recreationists are a homogenous group will not adequately reflect the effects of within-group diversity on a heterogeneous array of conservation issues.

Third, maintenance of the same measurement level of specificity or generality for both attitudes and behaviors has often been overlooked (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975; Wall, 1995). Thus, general attitudes toward the environment used often in studies may not be compatible with particular behaviors because they do not predict the diverse aspects of particular behaviors. Therefore, it is recommended that "to find variation in environmental attitudes and to discover how attitudes are related to environmental problems, studies of attitudes needed to focus on public reactions to local and specific environmental issues" (Wall, 1995, p. 298).

Consequently, it is probably best to explore the relationships that help foster recreationists' conservation behaviors in the context of a single recreation activity (fishing, in this paper), which has been typically considered a consumptive form of recreation. Assessment in this context was chosen because it is presumably even more imperative in light of previously inconsistent findings. Although previous studies (e.g., Jackson, 1986; Thapa & Graefe, 2003) have supported the hypothesis that anglers were less involved in conservation orientations than other nonconsumptive activities, other studies (e.g., Van Liere & Noe, 1981) provided only weak or no support for the hypothesis. In contrast, Theodori et al. (1998) found a higher association between fishing and conservation behaviors than with other nonconsumptive activities (e.g., picnicking and mountain biking) and conservation behaviors.

Another important element in the paper is the inclusion of recreationists' diversity, based on the extent to which they have been socialized into fishing (e.g., level of recreation specialization). Previous specialization studies indicated that sub-groups of anglers, for example, vary in terms of behavior, experience, skill and the importance of an activity (e.g., Ditton et al., 1992). Thus, an integration of recreation specialization and conservation attitudes and behavior needs to be modeled in an interconnected causal manner. …