Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Forest Resources


Jessica Leahy

Second Committee Member

Aaron Weiskittel

Third Committee Member

David Kittredge


Private woodland owners (PWOs) make decisions about 42% of forested land in the United States, which could significantly impact these important ecosystems. Despite decades of scholarly research, there is still incongruence between the stated land management intentions of PWOs and their actual behaviors. This dissertation seeks new understanding of the PWO decision-making environment. The four research objectives were: 1) Review the literature on private woodland owner timber harvesting behavior; 2) Understand landowner values and willingness to harvest biomass in Maine, 3) Investigate a new theory of psychological distance to explain the disconnect between stated intentions and behaviors, and; 4) Test theories of landowner-professional interaction and social networks via agent-based modeling. Results suggest that while economic models and survey-based methods provide insight to the relationships between demographics and harvest intention, more ground-truthed studies are needed to understand the actual harvesting decision. PWOs expressed a willingness to supply timber for biomass, and most held anthropocentric values towards harvesting timber, regarding the decision from a human resource use perspective rather than for ecosystem health. Psychological distance is a promising new theory to explain the decision making environment of PWOs and manifested in the frequency with which PWOs thought about land management, their physical proximity to their land, the place forest management had within their relationship to other people, and their general knowledge of forestry. Finally, initial testing and construction of the agent-based model suggest that interactions between natural resource professionals and landowners will significantly influence their trust in external information and the extent to which they harvest. There is a need for more data on landowner trust in natural resource professionals and a more quantitative measure of psychological distance. These insights can be incorporated into better outreach programming for PWOs at the state and federal level, and used to guide resource allocation for better interactive management of the nation’s private forests. Results also reveal new directions for scholars of family forest owner behavior. In particular, the theory of psychological distance provides a promising new paradigm for understanding the PWO decision-making environment.