Date of Award

Summer 8-18-2017

Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Forest Resources

Advisor

Jessica Leahy

Second Committee Member

John Daigle

Third Committee Member

Tian Guo

Additional Committee Members

David Kittredge

Andrew Shultz

Abstract

Family forest owners own 36% of the forestland in the United States. These lands provide ecosystem services and natural resources to a broad community and management of these lands should be based on informed decisions. However, many family forest owners are unaware of conservation and stewardship options, and the number of unaware landowners may be increasing. A new cohort of beginning family forest owners (BFFO), who have acquired land in the past 5 years, has emerged. Programs designed to inform landowners about different management opportunities tend to attract only a small group of interested owners. In the following 2 phase hybrid research-outreach study, we explored how confidence, knowledge, and social capital affect BFFOs’ decisions to engage in forest stewardship behaviors.

In chapter 1, we describe a range of confidence and knowledge among family forest owners and develop a landowner typology based on these variables. We administered a mail survey to 1056 family forest owners, with a 30% response rate. Our sample contained BFFOs and longstanding landowners (LFFOs). Results indicate that BFFOs and LFFOs are highly confident in their ability to care for and steward their lands. However, BFFOs have less knowledge about different conservation options than LFFOs. Results also indicate that knowledge is a key predictor of landowner engagement; however, the directionality of this relationship is unknown. We recommend that future research focus on understanding the directionality of the knowledge-engagement relationship and continue to develop landowner confidence models.

In chapter 2, we developed a landowner workshop outreach program based on MyLandPlan.org (MLP) and designed to increase landowners’ social capital and confidence. We hypothesize social capital and increased confidence will help disseminate information through social networks and encourage landowners to engage peers in responsible forest stewardship. We invited 135 landowners to the workshop series. The invited landowners had responded to the initial mail survey (Chapter 1) and indicated they were interested in receiving more information about forest stewardship. Twenty-one people, representing 13 ownerships, attended the workshop series as participants. The workshop series consisted of 3 individual sections scheduled to meet once a week for 2 hours. Each section was designed to encourage information and idea sharing among participants. Overall, participants felt the workshop series was informative and useful. Results indicate that participants’ social capital and confidence increased between the beginning and end of the workshop series. We recommend that outreach professionals focus on social capital development when designing outreach programs. This will help maximize outreach effects and continue to encourage a culture of responsible forest stewardship among family forest owners.

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