The Oregon Forest Resource Institute is an association of, by and for, timber interests. That may be changing --- possibly for the worse.
Last summer, OFRI published a report titled Forest Tourism Baseline Economic Assessment (see excerpts below). The apparent object of the exercise was to determine how the recreation and tourism industries could extract greater profits from Oregon's public lands. They report came up with three options. Option One is to preserve the status quo. Option Two is to strive for "Increased Forest Visitation" while Option Three is to generate "Increased Spending Per Visitor."
It is quite bad enough that Federal land management agencies have partnered up with recreation and tourism industries to maximize the financial return that can be generated from converting a simple walk in the park into a commodity product. When the commodity products industry starts getting into the act, things can quickly move from bad to worse.
I encourage you to read on and discover what the timber industry has put forth as options for possible futures for outdoor recreation in Oregon's great outdoors.
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Forest Tourism Baseline Economic Assessment
Prepared for: Oregon Forest Resources Institute
For Oregon, there are at least three strategic options available that could affect forest tourism activity - with different outcomes possible for visitation and visitor expenditures. These generalized options are described as status quo, increased forest visitation and increased spending per visitor. For each option, potential advantages and disadvantages also are noted.
OPTION 1 - STATUS QUO
This option assumes essentially no change in management to explicitly encourage or discourage added forest tourism activity.
Outcomes: Forest visitation could be expected to generally increase with statewide population growth plus general tourism travel from out-of-state visitors. However, a couple of factors mitigate against increased forest tourism activity - especially on federal and private lands.
One factor is the reduced federal spending for recreation due to reduced funding availability. Some campgrounds have been privatized and some areas (including trails) are receiving less funding for maintenance. While the net result of this versus consumer trends - increases and decreases in popularity of various activities - in terms of total visitation is somewhat unclear, a couple of likely outcomes are suggested: a) an increased share of forest tourism activity from state parks with less on federal lands; and b) greater opportunity for value added spending for facilities offering higher levels of visitor amenity.
Advantages: This strategic option of staying the course most likely involves the least expenditure of additional or re-focused resources. It also minimizes the risk of visitor increases that could amplify environmental risk or liability to public and private property owners.
Disadvantages: Potential downside of a status quo option is essentially two fold: a) risk of declining levels of forest visitation associated with decreased expenditure; and b) erosion of the personal connection that Oregonians and tourists from out-of-state have with Oregon's forests (except in highly developed and more peripheral forest settings such as ski areas and state parks).
OPTION 2 - INCREASED FOREST VISITATION
This strategic option relies on increasing the number of visitors to the forest - through measures such as development of new day use and overnight facilities - including interpretive and destination attractions. This approach need not be limited to public lands but could involve encouragement of increased multiple use of private lands - particularly if liability issues can be more fully addressed.
Outcomes: Attracting more visitors to the forest likely involves some mix of increased marketing to both in-state and out-of-state residents. Ideally, this is accomplished by attracting net new visitors, so that tourism is not drawn away from existing non-forest related attractions in Oregon. Increased total visitation likely requires both maintenance of existing and development of new in-forest visitor attractions and facilities on some mix of public and private lands. Facility development not only is correlated to higher visitation rates, but is a means of concentrating forest impacts so that impacts can be both better controlled and mitigated.
Advantages: With added visitation comes the opportunity for increasing aggregate forest tourism spending. Increased visitation also may be useful to improve urban-rural connections and awareness of the forest across a broader base of Oregonians and non-residents. Generating added visitation on private lands with high tourism appeal may offer a means for landowners to financially support longer rotations and conservation for biodiversity with multi-resource forest management (as from non-industrial owners).
Disadvantages: Adding new facilities on public lands may be problematic due to issues over funding and environmental impact. Introducing or encouraging more multiple uses of private lands may compromise wood production capacity - especially for non-hunting related activities.
Market testing to determine the best mix of facility development, price points, on- and off-site amenities likely would be a necessary precursor to pursing this strategy.
OPTION 3 - INCREASED SPENDING PER VISITOR
This strategic option typically involves extending the length of stay or offering other opportunities for each visitor to spend more for one or more components of the visitor experience than has been the case in the past. Longer stays and/or increased expenditure per visit can be encouraged by actions such as providing more developed campsites and one overnight lodging facility in or near the forest, and developing program opportunities (such as guided tours for activities ranging from fee hunting to forest interpretation).
There is opportunity for increasing the amount of spending by: a) converting day travelers to overnight forest visitors; and b) transitioning from what is a relatively low-yield camping experience (in monetary terms) to higher-value lodging facilities - including RVs, yurts, inns and possibly small scale forest resort facilities (also with more food sales and dining opportunities).
A related approach would be to "monetize" portions of the visitor experience that currently are enjoyed with little or no direct financial outlay from the participant. Examples could include such items as fees for backcountry hiking, developing added overnight fee facilities such as cabins or yurts in the forest (as for hikers), and/or charging for use of interpretive facilities now made available at no charge.
Outcomes: Increasing spending per visitor may be accompanied with either a static or increasing number of total visitors. In any event, this strategy implies some transition from lower-valued day use and camping activity to other higher-valued lodging alternatives together with more innovative approaches to identifying new sources of capturing economic value from visitors with latent "ability to pay."
Advantages: Capturing added value from the forest tourism experience may prove useful as a means of generating new revenue to replace funding cuts affecting federal and state forest lands. To the extent that "monetization" occurs with activities generally supported by groups with discretionary income, a user-fee-driven system may also be more socially equitable.
Disadvantages: Longer stays in the forest involving new or expanded high-revenue facilities may create environmental disturbance from development that is viewed as unacceptable. Visitor or community opposition may be experienced in converting what is a free or no-cost experience to revenue generation. Increasing fees in some areas/land ownerships may also result in increased use and impact in areas in which fees are not introduced or increased. Social welfare and forest visitor usage may be diminished to the extent that those affected do not have the ability or willingness to pay.
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