Effects of biological monitoring and results outreach on private landowner conservation management

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Sustained management efforts by private landowners are crucial for the long-term success of private land natural resource conservation and related environmental benefits. Landowner outreach is a primary means of recruiting private landowners into voluntary conservation incentive programs, and could also help sustain conservation behaviors through time. However, evaluation of outreach targeting landowners during or after participation in natural resource conservation incentive programs is lacking. We assessed two methods of landowner outreach associated with a Natural Resources Conservation Service incentive program targeting effective management of early successional forest habitat on private land in the Appalachians and Upper Great Lakes regions of the United States. While early successional forest habitat benefits many wildlife species, the program target species were the Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) and American Woodcock (Scolopax minor). After habitat management through the program occurred, biological technicians monitored wildlife and vegetation on enrolled properties and results were communicated to landowners in mailed packets. Our research focused on whether landowner interactions with technicians or receipt of result mailings could influence landowner post-program management intentions and management-related cognitions (e.g., agency trust, perceptions of outcomes). We conducted a telephone survey with landowners from January to May 2017, and analyzed survey data using quantitative group comparisons and qualitative coding methods. Landowners that accompanied biological technicians on monitoring site visits had higher agency trust and more positive perceptions of program outcomes. Result mailings did not improve landowner perceptions of program outcomes or agency trust, but did provide benefits such as increased landowner knowledge about birds. Neither outreach method was associated with more positive landowner post-program management intentions. Our findings underline the importance and potential of direct interactions between conservation biologists and landowners. These two forms of non-traditional outreach administered by biologists could be a worthwhile component of future conservation program evaluations on private lands.