Principles for Advancing Outdoor Recreation and Conservation

Robyn Paulekas (The Meridian Institute), Whit Fosburgh (Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership), Aaron Pruzan (Rendezvous River Sports), Luther Propst (Outdoor Alliance), and Peter Aengst (The Widerness Society) at the Conservation Recreation Summit in June. This and all photos: Christian Beckwith

From Right: Robyn Paulekas (The Meridian Institute), Whit Fosburgh (Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership), Aaron Pruzan (Rendezvous River Sports), Luther Propst (Outdoor Alliance), and Peter Aengst (The Wilderness Society) at the Conservation Recreation Summit in June. Photo: Christian Beckwith

The Principles for Advancing Outdoor Recreation and Conservation will be used as a starting point for the discussions at this year’s SHIFT Summit. They will be introduced on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 9:15 a.m. See here for more information.


During the 2014 SHIFT Festival, The SHIFT Roundtable on Land Conservation, Wilderness Advocacy & Human-Powered Outdoor Recreation, which sought to develop stronger partnerships between natural allies for the benefit of conservation, identified the reduction of division among such allies as a key to successful conservation efforts.

In June 2015, The Conservation and Recreation Summit, held in Grand Teton National Park at The Murie Center, used this observation as the starting point for a conversation between fifteen outdoor recreation enthusiasts, conservation advocates and public land managers who had convened to explore ways to better protect America’s outdoor heritage.

The participants, who came from the three interest groups in roughly equal proportion, agreed that a set of principles that served as a unified framework for natural allies would reduce internal conflict and increase success in the protection of our public lands, waters and wildlife. At the Summit’s conclusion, the participants therefore proposed six Principles for Advancing Outdoor Recreation and Conservation.

Why These Principles?

Outdoor recreation in natural settings is and always has been an indispensable part of conservation. Active engagement with the outdoors has produced some of the country’s most inspiring conservation leaders. Our natural places and the recreational activities they provide are essential to us mentally, spiritually, and physically. By immersing people in the natural world, outdoor recreation builds support for conservation of the places we come to love and helps to develop the next generation of stewards. Outdoor recreation offers a remarkable opportunity to reinvigorate conservation efforts by engaging younger generations and diverse populations.

Outdoor recreation adds economic stability, diversity, resilience, and prosperity to communities across the country while creating a broader constituency for protecting our natural resources. Outdoor recreation is a sustainable enterprise, the third largest economic sector in the United States, and fosters human health and well-being.

When unmanaged or poorly managed, outdoor recreation can adversely affect our public lands, as well as the quality of experiences and the numerous benefits they provide. The rapid growth of recreational use on public land, and the evolving nature of this use, often raises concerns that the quality of the lands and waters on which this recreation depends is being degraded. It also stresses the integral relationship between conservation and recreation.

The set of principles that follow, which has been informed by numerous historic and ongoing efforts on the issue, aims to guide collaboration among outdoor recreationists, conservationists, and public land managers and serve as a starting point for collective, strategic conversations and actions to protect our lands, waters and wildlife.


1. Outdoor recreation and conservation require that a diversity of lands and waters be publicly owned, available for public access, and well-stewarded. The uniquely American public land heritage is a privilege and a birthright. Stewardship of our public lands – including waters and wildlife – is our responsibility.

2. Recreation and conservation need each other. Both are beneficial to local economic well-being, quality of life and personal health. Outdoor recreation helps people understand the importance of healthy, intact ecosystems, which builds support for their protection and stewardship. Conservation protects the natural resources and wild places upon which outdoor recreation depends. Responsible recreation – which fosters and is informed by a conservation ethic while promoting diverse, inclusive and next-generation engagement – is essential for future protection and use of our public lands.

3. Outdoor users are responsible for avoiding and minimizing the impacts of their use across the places they recreate and the larger landscape. All recreation has impact. Ethical outdoor behavior that demonstrates respect for lands, water, and wildlife and that respects the value of connecting all people to the outdoors is critical and must be developed in all users and in future generations.

4. Proactive, professional planning and management, combined with public education, is necessary to care for the land and provide a diversity of quality recreation opportunities. Active public engagement in crafting solutions is necessary to ensure solutions are fair and can be effectively implemented. To make better decisions about which activities are best suited for which locations and provide a spectrum of opportunities to serve diverse interests, a broad landscape approach is necessary in order to meet both conservation and recreation needs.

5. Physical, biological and social science must inform the management of recreation. Management decisions should be grounded in the best available scientific information to ensure the protection of wild areas and the sustainability of resources while maintaining and enhancing the quality of outdoor recreation experiences.

6. Stable long-term funding and creative management solutions are essential to protect the environment and support outdoor recreation. Reliable and consistent funding is essential to protect natural resources and manage outdoor recreational experiences. Funding levels must be proportionate to the economic and public health benefits of outdoor recreation and a healthy environment. Land management agencies need adequate funding from federal, state, and local sources. This must be supplemented by (but not replaced by) new and non-traditional funding from private and non-profit sources.


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