Rapid Resource Change and Visitor-Use Management: Social–ecological Connections at the Bonneville Salt Flats

Abstract

Parks and protected areas are complex, and managers often need integrated social–ecological science-based information that illuminates the dynamic interactions between the biophysical and social processes. However, modeling and determining social–ecological connections are difficult due to disciplinary paradigms, divergent research questions, and data sets representing different scales. During this investigation, researchers sought to evaluate social–ecological linkages at a large salt pan (Bonneville Salt Flats) in western Utah (US). Specifically, the investigation evaluated how the changing level and location of salt-crust moisture and ponding water influenced visitors’ spatial distribution of use and important elements of their experience. The findings indicate that visitors travel more distance, spend more time recreating, and use the Salt Flats in higher densities during dry conditions. However, the results also highlight that importance levels ascribed to specific aspects of the visitor experience remained relatively stable regardless of changes in salt-crust moisture and ponding water. Illuminating such linkages is important because most natural resource issues in society, including resources at the Bonneville Salt Flats, are not solely ecological or social in nature but characterized by deeper enmeshment between the two.

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Correspondence to Matthew T. J. Brownlee.

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Zajchowski, C.A.B., Brownlee, M.T.J., Blacketer, M.P. et al. Rapid Resource Change and Visitor-Use Management: Social–ecological Connections at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Environmental Management 66, 263–277 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-020-01309-1

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Keywords

  • Bonneville Salt Flats
  • Coupled natural–human systems
  • GPS visitor tracking
  • Motivation
  • Social–ecological systems
  • Visitor-use management