Air Quality and Visitor Behavior in U.S. Protected Areas
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Past research has documented the harmful impacts of air pollution on endemic species, ecosystem functions, and human health. Far less is known about how degraded air quality influences the behaviors of visitors who frequent protected areas, such as National Parks. The aim of this study was to survey United States federal land management agency professionals to better understand the dynamic interplay between social and ecological factors leading to air quality-related visitor behavior. We analyzed professionals’ (n = 38) perceptions of the process of air quality degradation, management actions, and visitor responses, specifically the behavioral strategies visitors employ to reduce their exposure to degraded air quality. Results indicate a preponderance of context and source-specific behaviors. Additionally, many professionals shared their concerns regarding lingering gaps in social science scholarship regarding broad air quality-related behavioral patterns in protected areas. Implications for federal land managers, protected area researchers, and policy makers are discussed.
KeywordsAir pollution Air quality Wildland fire Prescribed fire Visitor behavior Recreation substitutability Social-ecological systems Protected areas
Special thanks are due to N. Qwynne Lackey and Milo Neild for their assistance throughout the coding process. Thanks are also due to protected area professionals for their participation in this study.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
All participants received notification of informed consent prior to the interview process; participants were able to refrain from answering specific questions in accordance with federal or agency policies (i.e., The Hatch Act). Participants were also informed that interview responses would be de-identified to provide anonymity, and that their name, professional title, unit, and agency would not be attached to specific quotes in this or other documents.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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