Factors associated with landownerinvolvement in forest conservation programs in the U.S.: implications for policy design andoutreach

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Land Use Policy



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One-third of the forestland in the U.S. is owned by 10.4 million family forest owners. Their collective decisions have a great impact on the sustainability of forest landscape across the country. Public policies and programs for encouraging landowners to properly manage their land include cost-share, forest certification, and conservation easements. However, to date, less than 6% of the family forest owners have participated in a cost-share program, less than 1% have certified their land, and less than 2% have an easement. By analyzing data from USDA Forest Service's National Woodland Owner Survey, we examined the characteristics of family forest owners who had participated in these programs and identified strategies to capitalize on these landowner characteristics to improve current programs and attract a wider range of participants. We found that family forest owners with larger land holdings were more likely to participate in all three types of programs. Obtaining forest management information or advice was important for program participation; however, the effects differed depending on the types of programs and the sources of information. Income was not significant in predicting participation in cost-share programs, implying family forest owners from lower-income strata were not more likely to use cost-share program. The results also suggest the importance of targeting the right audience when promoting forest certification programs, namely those who are participants of cost-share programs, own forestland for reasons other than farming or ranching, and plan to harvest sawlogs or pulpwood in the future. Age was not significant in any of the empirical models. This result is particularly intriguing in the context of conservation easement, considering recent discussions about the high cost of dying unprepared and the potential for promoting conservation easement as part of estate planning among older family forest owners. Finally, few variables were significant in the model predicting landowner decision about donating or selling an easement, suggesting the easement decision is very different from cost-share and forest certification decisions and further efforts are needed to understand the dynamics of this increasingly popular conservation policy tool. In summary, this study provides a better understanding of the relationship between program participation and the demographics, attitudes and behaviors of family forest owners. This understanding contributes to the development of outreach strategies for improving landowner interest in forest conservation programs.

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