Factors Affecting the Adoption and Retention of Conservation Buffers
Despite the numerous environmental benefits of conservation buffers and incentives offered by cost-share programs, adoption remains low. Typical buffer designs often take arable land out of production. Multifunctional conservation buffers (MCBs) offer an alternative that supports rather than excludes production. By incorporating non-timber forest products (NTFPs), edible or ornamental crops can be harvested for profit or home use, while retaining key environmental services. Beyond low adoption rates, little is known about the long-term retention of conservation buffers due in part to limited program evaluation funding. However, implementation of evaluation recommendations is imperative for buffer retention. With this in mind, we administered a mail survey to conservation buffer adopters throughout Virginia. The first objective was to evaluate post-adoption experiences with conservation buffers. We identified four landowner clusters with distinct differences in buffer perceptions and intentions to retain. Insights can help conservation agencies enhance programming to reduce negative buffer experiences and increase long-term retention. The second objective was to determine interest in and preferences for MCBs. We found respondents were somewhat to very interested in MCBs, and increases in this interest were influenced most by the buffer's potential to decrease soil loss. Respondents who found MCBs more appealing than traditional designs had supportive peers and higher expectations of MCB performance. Lastly, respondents preferred MCBs designed with nut or fruit producing trees that grow naturally. Findings can help inform future outreach and programming aimed at merging conservation and production in buffer zones.