In our investigation of the perceptions of wilderness, we focused our study on whether or not the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs’ (FWOC) view of conservation and wilderness align with the current opinions of the demographics that they are trying to attract. To do this, we conducted two studies, one being a narrative text analysis of FWOC’s biannual newsletter Outdoors West, and the other a Fulcrum survey administered at our Environmental Studies Poster Celebration.
In the Federation of Western Outdoors Clubs newsletters (Outdoors West) we found that the most consistently top cited words were “wilderness,” “conservation,” and “resolution.” We cross referenced the frequency of these words with Google Trends “interest over time” and found that of the same words surveyed, the top three most frequently mentioned over the same time period were “experience,” “recreation,” and “resolution.” This shows a disparity of some sorts between the interest of the common population and the type of environmentalism emphasized by FWOC. However, we did consider that some of these words could be interpreted in a different way than how we were examining them. For example, the word “experience” isn’t inherently related to outdoor leisurely experience, and also could be used in the context of, for example, “work experience”. Another word such as “resolution” could be used in the context of “new year’s resolutions” rather than something relating to politics.
For our Fulcrum survey we discovered a parallel trend to that of Google Trends. Of the under 50 population surveyed, most aligned their definitions of wilderness and conservation with the importance of leisure and recreation. The overwhelming majority of those surveyed either viewed wilderness as “A land inhabited only by wild animals” or “A legally designated area for low-impact recreation”. The conservation analysis showed a majority of the under 50 population surveyed preferred hands on action as opposed to social or legal action as their gateway to conservation. When comparing the surveyed information and the analysis done on FWOC’s Outdoors West it becomes apparent that a realignment of FWOC’s priorities regarding wilderness and the conservation thereof might be in their best interests to attract a younger demographic to the group. However, we acknowledge that this is a very old organization and that changing entire belief structures will probably not be easy or even possible.
Although we did find some interesting trends, there is a lot of room for subsequent research. Our study was situated in the state of Oregon, while FWOC’s organizations actually span through most of the western United States, so there is plenty of room to collect further demographic data on other FWOC organizations. In terms of Oregon’s FWOC demographic information, only four of the twelve organizations provided us with their information so we really do not have a complete picture of the Oregon demographics. The Fulcrum survey we administered was only taken by college students in the Environmental Studies program at Lewis & Clark, which provided us with valuable information about FWOC’s target demographic, but also limited us to a very specific type of person and there could be other types of young people interested in FWOC’s current ideology. Future studies should continue gathering data on the current and target audiences, and continue the conversation with Michael McCloskey and the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs. Additionally, we think it could be interesting to perform a social network analysis to see which organizations are connected and which are not. In order to improve the participation of younger generations in these various organizations, we would recommend looking into an updated website design and social media campaign to improve communication between FWOC, the associated organizations, and members.