ROS User Guide -1982 (Excerpts)

Managing for recreation requires different kinds of data and management concepts than does most other activities. While recreation must have a physical base of land or water, the product—recreation experience--is a personal or social phenomenon. Although the management is resource based, the actual recreational activities are a result of people, their perceptions, wants, and behavior.

While the goal of the recreation is to obtain satisfying experiences, the goal of the recreation resource manager becomes one of providing the opportunities for obtaining these experiences. By managing the natural resource settings, and the activities which occur within it, the manager is providing the opportunities for recreation experiences to take place. Therefore, for both the manager and the recreationist, recreation opportunities can be expressed in terms of three principal components: the activities, the setting, and the experience.

For management and conceptual convenience possible mixes or combinations of activities, settings, and probable experience opportunities have been arranged along a spectrum, or continuum. This continuum is called the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) and is divided into six classes. The six classes or portions along the continuum, and the accompanying class names have been selected and conventionalized because of their descriptiveness and utility in Land and Resource Management Planning and other management applications. The Recreation Opportunity Spectrum provides a framework for defining the types of outdoor recreation opportunities the public might desire, and identifies that portion of the spectrum a given National Forest might be able to provide.

Planning for recreation opportunities using the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum are conducted as part of Land and Resource Management Planning. The recreation input includes factors such as supply and demand, issues and identification of alternative responses to those issues which the planner must assess in order to develop management area prescriptions designed to assure the appropriate recreation experience through setting and activity management on the Forest.

Use of the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum and setting prescriptions as recreation input to Land and Resource Management Planning provides a framework for:

  1. Establishing outdoor recreation management goals and objectives for specific management areas.
  2. Trade-off analyses of available recreation opportunities as characteristic settings would be changed by other proposed resource management actions.
  3. Monitoring outputs in terms of established standards for experience and opportunities settings.
  4. Providing specific management objectives and standards for project plans.

Land and Resource Management Planning assure that National Forest System lands provide a variety of appropriate opportunities for outdoor recreation. Each Forest need not provide an entire array of opportunities, but collectively the National Forest System will provide this variety. The appropriate roles of each Forest in providing opportunities should be established as part of the Land and Resource Management Planning process, and be identified in the Forest, Regional and National Plans.


In the Land and Resource Planning process the goals and objectives selected for a specific area (management area) are achieved through the implementation of management prescriptions. Prescriptions are closely integrated sets of specific management practices scheduled over the entire planning period or portions of the planning period. Most acres within a planning area have the inherent capability, to some degree, to provide recreation opportunities and experiences.
Therefore management prescriptions for each management area should include consideration for recreation use.

Each prescription should contain minimum guidelines and standards to be met as well as directions concerning the type of activities, settings, and experience opportunities to be managed for during the planning time periods. The land and water areas of the Forest are inventoried and mapped by Recreation Opportunity Spectrum class to identify which areas are currently providing what kinds of recreation opportunities. This is done by analyzing the physical, social, and managerial setting components for each area. The characteristics of each of these three components of the setting affect the kind of experience the recreationist most probably realizes from using the area.

PHYSICAL SETTING-The physical setting is defined by the absence or presence of human sights and sounds, size, and the amount of environmental modification caused by human activity.

SIZE OF AREA-Size of area is used as an indicator of the opportunity to experience self-sufficiency as related to the sense of vastness of a relatively undeveloped area. In some settings application of the remoteness criteria assures the existence of these experience opportunities; in other settings the remoteness criteria alone do not. Therefore, apply the size criteria to the map or overlay developed using the remoteness criteria to insure that the appropriate experience opportunities are available.

EVIDENCE OF HUMANS-evidence of Humans is used as an indicator of the opportunity to recreate in environmental settings having varying degrees of human influence or modification.

SOCIAL SET'TNG-The social setting reflects the amount and type of contact between individuals or groups. It indicates opportunities for solitude, for interactions with a few selected individuals, or for large group interactions.

MANAGERIAL SETTING-The managerial setting reflects the amount and kind of restrictions placed on people's actions by the administering agency or private landowner which affect recreation opportunities.

SETTING INCONSISTENCIES-When the physical, social and/or managerial settings are not the same on the same piece of ground a “setting inconsistency” is occurring. A heavily-used hiking trail in a Primitive class physical setting may register a Semi-Primitive or Roaded Natural class social setting, for example, due to the amount of use.

To resolve setting inconsistencies for the current situation alternative, map the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum class which best reflects current management direction.


Recreation capacity is a measure, by Recreation Opportunity Spectrum class, of the maximum number of people who can obtain given kinds of recreation experiences at an established standard on a Forest within the constraints of resource capability. Capacity indicates the maximum recreation opportunity supply. (More recently, Limits of Acceptable Change concepts and processes inform capacity determinations.)