Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Recreation, Parks and Tourism Resources

Committee Chair

David Smaldone.


A surge of interest in geographic information has stemmed from the recent proliferation of Geographic Information Systems, Global Positioning Systems, and web-based tools such as Google Earth. This growing interest in geographic information has many implications for natural resource interpretation. Visitor centers and interpretive centers have long been sources of geographic information---providing maps and exhibits depicting a site or region. Such displays come in all shapes and sizes and in a variety of media, including maps, models, projections, animations and dioramas. Yet missing from the field of interpretation is research on the effectiveness of these tools in conveying geographic information to visitors.;A need for research on visitors' understanding of geographic and spatial concepts has also surfaced in the social science literature on wildland fire. Researchers have repeatedly intimated a lack of knowledge by the public regarding the size of fires. Interpretation is used as a tool to increase knowledge about fire effects and to influence attitudes towards fire policy. Using interpretation to communicate spatial concepts pertaining to fire is therefore a logical extension. The recent shift to ecosystem management has created a need to communicate to the public about the nature of landscape-level processes. This raises the question of how people perceive large landscapes and how they learn about large-scale spaces.;In the study reported in this thesis, the spatial cognition of National Forest visitors was researched through the use of a survey. Visitors to the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon were sampled from March-April, 2006. These visitors were asked about their cognitive representations of forest environments and their perceptions of the size of a recent fire. Three methods were adapted from research on human cognition: schema representations, cognitive mapping, and language structure. The results revealed a significant difference between male and female perceptions of fire size and a general lack of knowledge concerning fire size for both groups.;This thesis also reviews the literature on spatial cognition and provides a theoretical and empirical basis to suggest strategies for interpretation. Principles of geographic interpretation are outlined, and the terms geointerpretation and sense of space are suggested and defined.