Human Dimensions of Young Forest Conservation Programs: Effects of Outreach, Post-Program Management, and a Coupled Systems Perspective

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Virginia Tech


Achieving long-term conservation gains through the framework of conservation incentive programs requires an understanding of both the ecological and social components of these programs. Landowner program experiences and management decisions after program participation are important for long-term conservation, but these aspects of conservation programs are not well understood. To address this research gap related to conservation program participation, this thesis investigates Natural Resources Conservation Service programs that provide private landowners with financial and technical assistance to manage for young forest habitat in the eastern United States. We conducted a telephone survey to investigate private landowner experiences during and after participation in these NRCS conservation programs. Coordinating with biologists monitoring managed properties for birds, we assessed how in-person outreach and mailed monitoring results influenced landowners. Next, we evaluated how landowner motivations, resources, and cognitions were related to post-program young forest management intentions. Finally, we applied a coupled human and natural systems lens to investigate the linkage between wildlife outcomes, landowner perceptions, and continued young forest management. Our results demonstrate how in-person outreach can shape positive conservation experiences and increasing landowner trust in resource agencies. We also demonstrate the importance of both social and environmental factors for influencing landowner decision-making after conservation program participation. We detail the applications of this research for conservation agencies and professionals who work with private landowners.



conservation policy, coupled systems, habitat management, landowner outreach, private landowners