Limits of Acceptable Change: A Framework for Managing National Protected Areas: 
Experiences from the United States

Stephen F. McCool Professor, School of Forestry The University of Montana Missoula, Montana 59812 USA


The Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC) planning system was developed in response to growing recognition in the U .S. that attempts to define and implement recreational carrying capacities for national park and wilderness protected areas were both excessively reductionistic and failing. The carrying capacity concept itself, while useful in a generic way to encourage discussion about visitor impacts, was based on biological models of the capability of resources to sustain a given number of animals over a period of time on a particular range or pasture. Such models did not transfer well into ecosystems being managed for human benefits based primarily on recreational experiences that were not themselves well understood. LAC was based on the recognition that ( 1) specific objectives were needed to identify what it was that management was to protect, (2) change is always present in nature-dominated systems, (3) any recreational use leads to some change, (4) management is therefore confronted with the question ofhow much change is acceptable, and (5) monitoring of the outcomes of management is needed to determine if actions were effective. In the U .S., LAC was first implemented in designated Wilderness managed by the USDA Forest Service. Since that time, additional work has been conducted in other areas, such as national parks using a derivative system termed the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection planning process. It has also been tested as system for management of tourism development.

Keywords: Limits of Acceptable Change -Carrying Capacity -Visitor Impact Management Introduction 

The growing awareness that designation of protected areas does not ensure their preservation has

stimulated an enormous level of discussion globally in recent years. Issues of cross-jurisdictional relationships, rights of indigenous people, off -site induced impacts and management of recreational uses have broadened the arena of both scientific and public debate beyond the biology of these areas. While the biophysical characteristics of many protected areas remain the fundamental rationale for their initial designation, it has become quite clear that the values for which these areas were initially protected can be threatened by unmanaged or poorly managed recreational use.

In the United States, formal recognition of recreational use management questions occurred during the late 1950s. It was during that period that recreational use of national forests and national parks grew at unprecedented rate. The rapid growth found managers, who were trained primarily in


1 Paper presented at Workshop on Impact Management in Marine Parks, sponsored by Maritime Institute of Malaysia, August 13-14, 1996, Kuala Lumpur, MALA YSIA.


forestry, wildlife and range management, unprepared for the resulting demands and impacts. As a framework for structuring management response, it was only natural that such managers would turn to carrying capacity as a paradigm or model of visitor management. Such managers had a strong, biologically based educational background, and generally went into these professions to avoid working with people, rather than being attracted to the idea of managing recreational opportunities for the benefits to people they produce. Therefore, it was a relatively easy conceptual leap to visualizing the management problems induced by the hordes of visitors coming to such areas as a function of the landscape's carrying capacity being exceeded.

It was quickly recognized, even by the most biologically oriented managers, however, that recreational carrying capacity was comprised of at least two components: ( 1) a biophysical component concerning impacts of visitors upon the resource, and (2) a social element dealing with the type and quality of experience visitors received during their visit. This recognition had the net effect of complicating discussions about carrying capacities because little was known about visitor experiences and the recreation production process, their interactions with biophysical processes and conditions, and how establishing a carrying capacity would deal with such questions.

Never-the-less, many managers experimented with implementing carrying capacities, particularly on large western U .S. whitewater rivers, where recreational growth during the late 1960s and early 1970s could only be described as explosive. Such managers implemented carrying capacities ( actually use limit policies) to control the overall level of recreational use in order to limit both social and biophysical impacts. What is clear from these experiments is that ( 1) carrying capacity failed to provide the needed framework for managing recreational use, but (2) the search for carrying capacity spawned a great deal of research and problem analysis that eventually resulted in improved management systems, primarily, the Limits of Acceptable Change planning system.

The Limits of Acceptable Change planning system (Stankey and others 1985) was initially designed to address visitor management issues in the U .S .National Wilderness Preservation System and was a product of the spreading realization that carrying capacity failed in achieving its objectives. While there are many reasons why the carrying capacity paradigm failed, the most fundamental was that it impelled managers toward the wrong question: "How many is too many?" Carrying capacity is intrinsically a quantitative term, yet, research was showing that many problems of recreational use were a function not so much of numbers of people, but their behavior. LAC, on the other hand, dealt with a significantly different question: "What resource and social conditions are appropriate (or acceptable), and how do we attain those conditions?" This question represented a substantially different approach to thinking about recreational use questions, yet was actually more closely aligned with the principal job of recreation managers--protecting the values for which an area was established--than the carrying capacity paradigm.

Thus, Limits of Acceptable Change as a planning system was viewed as a way for managers to confront and resolve the complex issues of managing visitors to not only provide for the experiences they seek, but to deal with the problems of their social and biophysical impacts. It has been slightly more than a decade since LAC was first implemented in the U.S. and a great deal knowledge has been gained that can provide a foundation for how it might be used in other social and biophysical contexts. The objectives of this paper are to (1) briefly state the visitor impact principles upon which the LAC process is constructed; (2) review the LAC process itself; and (3) provide an overview of experiences and issues associated with LAC in the U .S. It should be noted that national protected areas in the U .5. (particularly designated Wilderness and national park back country) frequently differ in many respects from those outside North America, notably in land tenure, presence of indigenous people within the area, rights to harvest native plants and animals, and training of managers. Never-the-less, management problems tend to be similar , even if institutions for resolving them are different. Thus, while LAC was developed in the U .5., the general concepts and principles underlying its development should be applicable in other areas.

Concepts and Principles

The LAC system is, in effect, built upon eleven principles that have emerged from research on

visitor impacts and growing public interest to be involved in protected area decision-making. While these principles had not entirely been formally and explicitly articulated when the LAC process was developed, they are now unmistakably recognized as fundamental components of any systematic planning system for natural area protection and management. In this section, each principle will be briefly discussed.2

Principle 1: Appropriate Management Depends Upon Objectives

A clear and consistent theme expressed throughout the literature of visitor management in protected areas has been the need for explicitly stated objectives (Brown and others 1987; Manning 1986). Objectives provide definitive statements of the products or outcomes of recreation or protected area management. Objectives, either as formal statements of legislative or administrative policy or as explicit assertions in a management plan identify the appropriateness of management actions and indicate acceptable resource and social conditions. Formally stated objectives allow protected area managers to determine how successful management actions may have been in resolving problems. Manning ( 1986) argues that

Management objectives provide an answer to the question of how much change is acceptable by deciding what types of recreation experience a particular recreation area should provide, the feel of naturalness of environmental conditions, the kind of experience offered, and the intensity of management practices.

While clearly the context for the above concerned management of recreational uses, other uses and values would benefit from clearly established objectives. Unfortunately, writing good objectives is not easy; while people tend to agree about general values and concepts, specific and explicit objectives are likely to evoke considerable disagreement about what it is to be accomplished or produced at a recreation site. It should be noted that the process of establishing objectives is an intrinsically political one, and therefore methods that include interaction with those affected will help develop objectives upon which a consensus can be developed.

Principle 2: Diversity in Resource and Social Conditions in Protected Areas Is Inevitable and M ay be Desirable resource and social conditions within any relatively large protected area are not likely to be uniform. Impacts, use levels, and expectations of appropriate conditions tend to vary (for example,


2 Much of this section is adapted from McCool (1989).

see Martin and others 1989 concerning variability in acceptable campsite impact conditions in the periphery v s .the center of a wilderness). Topography, vegetation and access influence use densities and level of impact. Visitor use is frequently unevenly distributed. This diversity of conditions is inevitable, and sometimes desirable. For example, in large terrestrial protected areas, it generally would not be desirable to have developments spread evenly across the area, leaving no place untouched. The interior areas of protected areas often display fewer human-induced impacts than the periphery .Managers can identify this diversity and then make decisions on its desirability, thus separating technical decisions from judgmental ones. Finally, Haas and others (1987) argue that managing for diversity explicitly through some type of zoning process is more likely to lead to preservation of protected area values than existing implicit or de facto zoning.

Principle 3: Management is Directed at Influencing Human-Induced Change

Many protected areas have been established to protect not only unique and valuable natural features and conditions, but natural processes as well. Management is generally oriented toward limiting and managing human-induced changes in these. It is human-induced changes that we find most disturbing in protected areas. Such human-induced changes may lead to conditions that visitors or managers may feel are unacceptable or inappropriate. Management then concerns itself with determining what actions will be effective in influencing the amount, type and location of these changes in addition to determining how much change is acceptable.

Principle 4: Impacts on Resource and Social Conditions Are Inevitable Consequences of Human Use

A variety of research has shown that relatively small amounts of recreational use lead to disproportionately large biophysical impacts (Cole 1987). Thus, allowing any level of recreation in a protected area means that some level of impact will occur. Thus, the principal question that managers must ask is "how much impact is acceptable in this area?" Once this question has been addressed, managers must then deal with the appropriateness of various techniques or actions to manage to this level of impact. In a similar way, social impacts often occur with relatively small amounts of use. For example, a few people behaving in a rowdy manner may impact another visitor's experience far more than many people being more quiet. This principal extends to types of visitors as well. Lucas ( 1964) found that canoeists in Minnesota' s Boundary Waters Canoe Area were more sensitive to encountering motorboaters than larger numbers of canoeists.

Principle 5: Impacts M ay be Temporally or Spatially Discontinuous

Impacts from visitor use or management activities may occur offsite and may not be visible until later. For example, a management strategy eliminating camping around a lake may simply transfer impacts to other, potentially, more sensitive areas. Inefficient water treatment may result in pollution of water downstream from the outlet. And, impacts, such as dying vegetation, may not be visible until long after recreationists leave the site. Such tendencies make understanding and managing impacts significantly more difficult, demand substantial knowledge about use-impact relationships at different scales, and require managers to carefully design appropriate monitoring strategies. 


Principle 6: M any Variables Influence the Use/Impact Relationship

While the level of recreational use is an important consideration in managing protected areas, a variety of other variables affect the use/impact relationship. For example, it has long been known that behavior of recreationists influences the amount of impact they cause. In marine settings, treading water with flippers may stir up sand that may impact coral. Other variables include travel method, group size, season of use, and a variety of soil and vegetation characteristics. Similarly, there may be coral settings that are more or less sensitive to recreational use. What this principle means is that the standard errors around lines depicting use/impact relationships will be extremely large because of these other factors and that attempts to control human-induced impacts solely through use limits or carrying capacities may fail. Education and information programs and regulations aimed at changing visitor behavior may be more effective.

Principle 7: Many Management Problems Are Not Use Density Dependent

Management problems that relate to the number of people using an area tend to be those that have relatively simple technological solutions, such as sewage, water supply and parking. Even for some of these, however, the intensity of the problem may not be linearly related to amount of use. For example, per capita consumption of water for sewage disposal may be reduced by using toilets with low water requirements. The lack of a precise linear relationship between use and biophysical impact implies that management problems are not density dependent.

Similar conclusions can be made with respect to social conditions. For many visitors to back country areas of national protected areas, solitude is not a significant or salient motivation (Stankey and McCool1984 ). Thus, controlling use levels to optimize opportunities for solitude would be inappropriate.

Principle 8: Limiting Use is Only One of Many Management Options

One of the problems with the carrying capacity approach is its emphasis on controlling or limiting the number of visitors as a key to limiting impacts (Stankey and McCool1991 ). Because carrying capacity carries with it the question " how many is too many ? /I, it tends to view imposition ofuse limits as an end in itself. A use limit policy is only one of a number of potential management actions that are available to address visitor impacts, yet is one of the most intrusive actions that managers could deploy. Use limit policies have historically carried with them a host of additional problems, such as choosing appropriate allocation and rationing techniques. These techniques have been among the most controversial actions protected area managers in the United States have ever taken (McCool and Ashor 1984).

Principle 9: Monitoring is Essential to Professional Management

Monitoring, in an informal sense, has historically been a component of the protected area manager's job. However, monitoring has generally been conducted informally, with little systematic planning and implementation. Monitoring is defined as the period and systematic measurement of key indicators of biophysical and social conditions. It performs two major functions in the LAC process. First, it allows managers to maintain a formal record of resource and social conditions over time. In serving this function, data points can inform managers of changes in these conditions rather than


relying solely on infonnal perceptions of changes that might have occurred. This is particularly important in situations where managers change frequently or where effects are slow to develop. Second, it helps assess the effectiveness of management actions. Thus, monitoring helps managers understand, in a relatively objective way, if the action addressed the problem.

Principle 10: The Decision-Making Process Should Separate Technical Decisions from Value Judgments

Many decisions confronting protected area managers are simply technical in nature, such as the number of toilets in a campground, the location of a trail, or the design of a visitor center. However , many others, including decisions to limit use (and how), reflect judgments about values-such as objectives for an area, spacing between campsites, types of facilities, or the kind of recreation opportunities to be provided. It is important in decision-making that these means-ends decisions not get confused. Decision processes should separate questions of "what is" from "what should be".

For example, identifying the range of diversity in resource or social conditions that exists within a protected area is a different task from determining the preferred range of diversity. Existing conditions may influence preferred conditions, but the two tasks should be kept separate.

Principle 11: Consensus among Affected Groups about Proposed Actions is Needed for Successful Implementation of Protected Area Management Strategies

Managing visitor impacts in national protected areas within the U .S .occurs within a context of increasing public concern about both environmental quality and participation in government decision-making. While the First Amendment to the U .S. Constitutions guarantees that citizens have the right to petition the government for grievances, there are no other explicit and specific constitutional guarantees of citizen involvement in governmental decision process Yet, increasing political polarization and conflict over natural resources indicates that successful decisions--ones

that can be implemented--require not only a systematic and technical problem-solving process but also one that incorporates public participation as well. Within the highly charged social and political contexts that protected area management frequently occur, technical planning processes tend to create more in the way of disagreement than agreement because proposed actions may adversely affect some well-defined value expressed by a group within the public.

While the LAC system does not specifically require public participation, in its first full application in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the state of Montana (McCool and Ashor 1984; Stankeyand others 1984; Stokes 1990) public participation based on John Friedmann' s theory of trans active planning ( 1973) was used as a fundamental component of the planning effort. The lessons from that experience suggest that the legal power to plan and implement is separated from the power to implement. Individual interest groups have "veto" power over proposed actions. As Friedmann ( 1995) most recently argues, planning is political and must proceed specifically with this acknowledgment. Thus, a consensus ("grudging agreement") is needed for protected area agency to implement. 

The Limits of Acceptable Change Planning System

The Limits of Acceptable Change planning system was developed over a period of years in the early 1980s to address the problems of managing recreational use in national protected areas and as originally articulated (Stankey and others 1985) contained includes four major components:

( I) the specification of acceptable and achievable resource and social conditions,

defined by a series of measurable parameters; (2) an analysis of the relationship between existing conditions and those judged acceptable; (3) identification of management

actions necessary to achieve these conditions; and (4) a program of monitoring and evaluation of management effectiveness (Stankey and others 1985).

The four components are then expanded into nine distinct steps for the purpose of improving the effectiveness of its implementation. For some protected area management agencies, these steps closely follow existing planning processes, while for others the LAC system may represent a significant departure. What is important is that planners understand the rationale for each step and its sequence in the overall process. By clearly understanding the rationale, the steps can be modified as needed. This section provides a brief overview of each step.3 For greater detail, the reader is referred to Stankey and others (1985).

(1) Identify area special values, issues, and concerns. Citizens and managers meet to identify what special features or qualities within the area require attention, what management problems or concerns have to be dealt with, what issues the public considers important in the area's management, and what role the area plays in both a regional and national context. Scientists also become involved because they may often hold information not readily available. Th,e dialogue among scientists, managers and public helps unify agreement about important values and issues. This step encourages a better understanding of the natural resource base, such as the sensitivity of marine environments to recreation use and tourism development, a general concept of how the resource could be managed, and a focus on principal management issues. LAC is very much an issue-driven process; issues identified here will be addressed later .

(2) Identify and describe recreation opportunity classes or zones. Most marine settings of sufficient size contain a diversity of biophysical features, such as reefs, underwater cliffs, corals, beaches and evidence of human occupation and use. They may vary significantly in terms of the amount and type of development. Likewise, social conditions, such as level and type of use, and types of recreation experiences, vary from place to place. The type of management needed may vary throughout the area. Opportunity classes describe subdivisions or zones of the natural resource where different social, resource, or managerial conditions will be maintained. For example, deeper reef settings will require SCUBA gear while in shallower areas snorkels may be adequate. The shal- lower areas may also show more impact from human use, such as effects on coral, than deeper areas. The classes that are developed represent a way of defining a range of diverse conditions within the marine setting. And, while diversity is the objective here, it is important to point out that the conditions found in all cases must be consistent with the objectives laid out in the area's organic legislation or decree. In this step, the number of classes are also defined as well as their general resource, social, and managerial conditions.


3 This section adapted from Stankey and McCool ( 1992).

(3) Select indicators of resource and social conditions. Indicators are specific elements of the re- source or social setting selected to represent ( or be "indicative of') the conditions deemed appropriate and acceptable in each opportunity class. Because it is impossible to measure the condition of and change in every resource or social feature within a protected marine setting, a few indicators are selected as measures of overall health, just as we relatively frequently monitor our blood pressure rather than more complete tests of blood chemistry .Indicators should be easy to measure quantitatively, relate to the conditions specified by the opportunity classes and reflect changes in recreational use. Indicators are an essential part of the LAC framework because their state reflects the overall condition found throughout an opportunity class. It is important to understand that an individual in- dicator might not adequately depict the condition of a particular area. It is the bundle of indicators that is used to monitor conditions.

(4) Inventory existing resource and social conditions. Inventories can be time-consuming and expensive components of planning; indeed they usually are. In the LAC process, the inventory is guided by the indicators selected in step 3. For example, level and type of development, use density, and human-induced impacts on coral might be measured. Other variables, such as location of different corals, shipwrecks, docks, and mooring spots, can also be inventoried to develop a better understanding of area constraints and opportunities. And, inventory information will be helpful later when evaluating the consequences of alternatives. Inventory data are mapped so both the condition and location of the indicators are known. The inventory also helps managers establish realistic and attainable standards. By placing the inventory as step 4, planners avoid unnecessary data collection.

(5) Specify standards for resource and social conditions in each opportunity class. In this step, we identify the range of conditions for each indicator considered appropriate and acceptable for each opportunity class. By defining those conditions in measurable terms, we provide the basis for establishing a distinctive and diverse range of marine settings. Standards serve to define the "limits of acceptable change." They are the maximum permissible conditions that will be allowed in a specific opportunity class. They are not necessarily objectives to be attained. The inventory data collected in step 4 play an important role in setting standards. We want the standards defining the range of acceptable conditions in each opportunity class to be realistic and attainable; we also want them to do more than mimic existing (unacceptable) conditions.

(6) Identify alternative opportunity class allocations. Most attractive marine settings could be managed in several different ways. Marine parks often differ significantly in the amount of development, human density (both residents and visitors ), and recreational opportunities available. In this step, we begin to identify some different types of alternatives. Using information from step 1 (area issues and concerns) and step 4 (inventory of existing conditions ), managers and citizens can begin to jointly explore how well different opportunity class allocations address the various contending interests, concerns, and values.

(7) Identify management actions for each alternative. The alternative allocations proposed in step 6 are only the first step in the process of developing a preferred alternative. In addition to the kinds of conditions that would be achieved, both managers and citizens need to know what management actions will be required to achieve the desired conditions. In a sense, step 7 requires an analysis of the costs, broadly defined, that will be imposed by each alternative. For example, many people may find attractive the alternative to protect a specific area from any development, and restore to pristine

condition any impacts that might exist. However, this alternative might require such a huge commitment of funds for acquisition and enforcement that the alternative might not seem as attractive.

(8) Evaluation and selection of a preferred alternative. With the various costs and benefits of the several alternatives before them, managers and citizens can proceed to the evaluation stage, and the managing authority, based on guidance from the public, can select a preferred alternative. Evaluation must take into consideration many factors, but examples would include the responsiveness of each alternative to the issues identified in step 1, management requirements from step 7, and public preferences. It is important that the factors figuring into the evaluation process and their relative weight be made explicit and available for public review.

(9) Implement actions and monitor conditions. With an alternative finally selected, and articulated as policy by decision-makers, the necessary management actions (if any) are put into effect and a monitoring program instituted. Often, an implementation plan, detailing actions, costs, timetable, and responsibilities, will be needed to ensure timely implementation. The monitoring program focuses on the indicators selected in step 3, and compares their condition with those identified in the standards. This information can be used to evaluate the success of actions. If conditions are not im- proving, the intensity of the management effort might need to be increased or new actions implemented.

The LAC process, in summary , provides a framework for thinking about issues of recreation development and management. It is a framework, we believe, that recognizes the intrinsic complexity of development issues, yet provides the process to competently deal with this complexity without being excessively reductionistic. By combining the technical expertise of planners and scientists with valuable personal knowledge held by the local public, LAC can result in more defensible decisions that have greater chances of implementation.

Experience in the United States with Limits of Acceptable Change

The Limits of Acceptable Change planning system was first implemented in its entirety in the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex in the state of Montana, USA. This protected area is a large, undeveloped area comprising about 682,000 hectares lying astride the continental divide. It is characterized as containing a number of mountain ranges, the headwaters of several major rivers, the presence of nearly all indigenous wildlife species, and relatively low levels of recreational use. The area contains about 2500 km of designated trails and over 1500 inventoried campsites. Four national forests manage the three wildernesses comprising the complex (Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear). Under the leadership of the Forest Service, the agency began implementing the LAC system in 1982. The then staff officer for wilderness on one of the national forests, proposed that the LAC process be combined with Friedmann's (1973) theory of trans active planning (see Stokes 1990 for an historical review). That process took about five years to complete, but set the standard for wilderness management in the U .S. because the combination of public participation and LAC was so successful (Ashor 1985; McCool and Ashor 1984).

Since the initial application of LAC, it has formed the basis for nearly all the protected area management planning in the U .S. Forest Service. Krumpe and Stokes ( 1993) report that 75% of 57 national forests six western U .S .states are applying LAC on wildernesses under their jurisdiction with another 19% anticipating to use it. Other agencies administering protected areas, such as the

Bureau of Land Management have also used LAC as a basis for management planning. The National Park Service has recently adopted a derivative of LAC, called Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (National Park Service 1993) to guide General Management Planning of national parks. Thus, nearly all major national protected area management agencies in the U .S. have recognized that a systematic process built upon the principles identified earlier is needed to preserve ( or restore where needed) the important values for which these areas were established.

But, how has the process worked? What barriers has it faced? Has it been effective? How well does it work with public involvement? What about applying LAC concepts to protected areas other than designated wilderness ? These are important questions because previous experiences can provide protected area managers in other settings with hints about the challenges they face and clues to more effective applications. While it has been more than a decade since the initiation of the fIrst full application, no systematic and rigorously disciplined assessments exist, with the possible exceptions of McCoy and others (1995) and Parker (n.d.). Thus, the following evaluation is necessarily impressionistic. There are five major items that we have learned over the last decade. Each will be briefly discussed along with some ideas about how to address the item.

LAC was originally designed to manage recreational use in wilderness, but its utility extends far beyond this challenge

The publication of the original statement about Limits of Acceptable Change (Stankey and others 1985) emphasized managing recreational use in designated Wilderness. However, the concepts and principles forming the foundation for the system can be extended to other resource issues. For example, McCool ( 1994) has adapted the process to managing nature dependent tourism development, and this process is currently being tested in southwestern Oregon in the U .S. to identify a tourism policy for a local county. LAC has also been used by the B ureau of Land Management in southeastern Idaho along the South Fork of the Snake River to structure planning for a sensitive and ecologically significant riparian area. As noted above, the U .S. National Park Service has adapted LAC and another similar process to address management of visitors in components of the national park system. This system was initially tested in Arches National Park in the state of Utah (National Park Service 1995) and is currently forming the basis for several additional General Management Plans, including that for Glacier National Park in Montana. The challenge for natural resource and protected area managers is to clearly understand the principles and concepts underlying the idea of limits of acceptable change and then design the processes needed to implement an LAC-based planning system in different contexts.

Intimate public participation has become one of the hallmarks of successful LAC-based planning in the U.S.

As originally conceived and developed, the LAC planning system represented the traditional rational-comprehensive approach to planning. However, its initial application in the Bob Marshall Wilderness included an intimate public involvement component. This public involvement process, based on Friedmann's theory of trans active planning (1973), lead to not only ownership by affected publics in the plan, but probably a better plan as well. Many of the LAC planning efforts for designated Wilderness following the initial effort also included similar intense public participation. In the assessment reported by McCoy and others (1995), about 43% of the 23 LAC-based wilderness planning efforts they reviewed included a citizen task force component. They noted that


the LAC planning processes involving the public "did a more complete job of writing physical, social and managerial attributes ...for their planning area" than those conducted by the agency alone. Such benefits, including ownership of the plan by those affected, go a long way in ensuring implementation and enforcement of plan provisions.

There is a lack of understanding of implementation of LAC

While LAC has been viewed as a way of resolving a number of protected area management problems by upper level management, its implementation is often viewed as additional work by field level personnel, and therefore, resisted. This feeling is a result of two factors. First, field level personnel have often been excluded from the LAC planning process, and therefore do not have any ownership in it. People cannot be expected to support that which they do not understand, and they do not understand that in which they have not been involved. Thus, field personnel may view actions proposed as a result of LAC-based planning as additional work. Second, LAC was not designed to be implemented as additional work, but to restructure existing workloads and activities. With the monitoring that is required in the process, field level personnel may have their daily activities redirected and provided more structure. Thus, the monitoring that goes with LAC may now be viewed as critical to protection of the area. Monitoring may then replace other activities which are not directed toward protection. Under an LAC-based plan, many current activities will be continued, but with potentially different reasons, some activities will be eliminated or transferred to other staff areas, and still other work activities may be initiated.

Implementation of LAC will require some change in existing bureaucratic procedures

Limits of Acceptable Change represents a new way of thinking about protected area management. The change from former approaches to LAC requires consideration of how the existing bureaucracy will need to be changed to support this approach. Experience in the U .S. suggests three major changes. First, training managers in LAC though a short course provides an excellent introduction, but managers need continuing support as they gain experience and begin to ask new questions. Development and transfer of knowledge is an important requisite to successful implementation. This expertise can be centered in universities or in the protected area agencies themselves, but it must exist and be accessible.

Second, personnel transfer policies which lead to short tenures in specific positions mean that protected area managers may move into positions where LAC has been implemented but they themselves have little background or experience in the system. The effect of these policies is to gradually eliminate or dilute the area-oriented learning that occurred with the implementation of LAC, and a return to former management paradigms in an incremental manner .

A third issue is funding. Implementation of LAC, as with other planning systems represents an investment. While this may take funds away from other activities initially, its payoff is in increased protection of important values. Coupled with an active public involvement program as in the Bob Marshall example, it also results in increased public support for implemented management actions. 


LAC provides a framework guiding policy relevant research

Increasingly, researchers are turning to the Limits of Acceptable Change system to guide potential research questions and projects. For example, identification of indicators has become a focus of several recent projects where LAC or VERP has been implemented. Lime and others ( 1994) used computerized visual imaging techniques to identify appropriate indicators and suggest standards of acceptable social conditions for certain areas in Utah's Arches National Park. Roggenbuck and others ( 1993) also examined a similar question for three wilderness areas, finding that litter, damaged trees and human-induced noise were more important indicators of social conditions than encounters with other people.

LAC thus expands its utility by suggesting research questions and issues that will provide useful information to protected area managers. Such questions relevant indicators, acceptable conditions, important values, acceptability of management actions can all be informed through research.


Limits of acceptable change does represent a dramatically different way of conceptualizing problems compared to the recreational carrying capacity framework. However, in and of itself, LAC provides only a framework for identifying appropriate management actions. It does not determine what should be done, by whom, or where. Thus, there is still a need for manager, public and scientific expertise. What LAC does well is help frame management questions in ways more effective than the past. While some may complain that the system is too complex, this complaint originates more from a lack of understanding than the intrinsic concept itself. Understanding the principles upon which LAC is based leads to a set of possible changes in the planning system more compatible with specific agency needs and capabilities.

LAC in the U .S. has been frequently associated with detailed public participation programs. These programs have contributed to its successful implementation because they have enhanced opportunities for mutualleaming, created ownership in the plan by the public, and resulted in "better" plans. The appropriateness of public participation is a culturally determined decision, so applicability to Malaysian situations must be assessed. The challenge for protected area managers is to adapt basic principles of impact management to their situation.

Literature Cited

Ashor, I.L. 1985. Recreation management in the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex: An application of the limits of acceptable change concept and trans active planning theory .Unpub. M.S. Thesis, The University of Montana, Missoula, MT .

Brown, P .1., S.F. McCool, and M.1 .Manfredo. 1987. Evolving concepts and tools for recreation user management in wilderness: Astate-of-knowledgereview in Proceedings -National Wilderness Research Conference: Issues, State-of- Knowledge, Future Directions. Gen. Tech. Report INT -220, USDA Forest Service Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Ogden, UT .pp 320-346. 


Cole, D.N. 1987. Research on soil and vegetation in Wilderness: A state-of -knowledge review, in Proceedings -National Wilderness Research Conference: Issues, State-of- Knowledge Future Directions. Gen. Tech. Report INT -220, USDA Forest Service Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Ogden, UT .pp 135-177.

Friedmann, J. 1973. Retracking America: A theory of trans active planning. Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, NJ .

Friedmann, J. 1993. Toward a non-euclidian mode of planning. Journal of the American Planning Association 59(4): 482-485.

Haas, G.E., B.L. Driver, P.J. Brown, and R.C. Lucas. 1987. Wilderness management zoning. Journal of Forestry 85(12): 17-21.

Krumpe, E.E., and G.L. Stokes. 1993. Application of the limits of acceptable change planning process in United States Forest Service wilderness planning in Proceedings, Fifth World Wilderness Congress, Tromso, Norway.

Lime, D.W., R.E. Manning, M.E. Lewis, andW.A. Freimund. 1994. Indicators and standards of quality for the visitor experience at Arches National Park: Phase II research. Cooperative Park Studies Unit, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN.

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Stankey, G.H., S.F. McCool, and G.L. Stokes. 1984. Limits of acceptable change: A new framework for managing the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Western Wildlands 10(3): 33-37.

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Stokes, G.L. 1990. The evolution of wilderness management: The Bob Marshall Wilderness complex. Journal of Forestry 88(10): 15-20. 


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