, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 157-168

Carrying Capacity as “Informed Judgment”: The Values of Science and the Science of Values

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Contemporary park and wilderness carrying capacity frameworks rely on formulation of standards of quality, which are defined as minimum acceptable resource and social conditions. Formulation of standards of quality involves elements of both science and values, and both of these elements must be integrated into informed judgments on the part of park and wilderness managers. That is, managers must ultimately make value-based judgments about the maximum acceptable level of visitor-caused impacts to the resource base and the quality of the visitor experience. However, such judgments should be as informed as possible by scientific data on the relationships between visitor use and resulting impacts and the degree to which park and wilderness visitors and other interest groups judge such impacts to be acceptable. Such information represents the “values of science” to managing carrying capacity in parks and wilderness. A growing body of literature has begun to address the corresponding “science of values,” and how this type of information might be integrated in park and wilderness management. Visitor-based research has employed normative theory and techniques to explore the acceptability of a range of resource and social impacts related to visitor use, and findings from these studies are being integrated into a body of knowledge and applied in management decision-making. Conceptual and methodological extensions of the normative approach are currently being explored in a variety of park and wilderness contexts, and new theoretical and empirical approaches are being adapted to address trade-offs inherent in carrying capacity. In these ways, the science of values is progressing to meet the opportunities and challenges of the values of science to park and wilderness management. The concept of carrying capacity, along with the theoretical and methodological approaches described in this paper, can be extended to a large number of natural resource and environmental issues.