Paying for Nature: Incentives and the Future of Private Land Stewardship

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Virginia Tech


Privately owned lands provide a number of benefits to humans, including food, clean air and water, and building materials. Private lands are also home to a host of wildlife species and the habitats that they rely upon for survival. As such, balancing human and ecological needs on private lands is of critical importance. Stewardship is a term popularly used to refer to this balanced approach of managing land for a host of benefits. When landowners lack the interest, ability, or willingness to incorporate stewardship into their management strategies, incentives are often provided to spur greater conservation outcomes. This two-part case study is focused on private land stewardship. Using qualitative data analysis, I first examined the behaviors that a sample of production-oriented ranchers defined as stewardship. I then explored the environmental values underlying their behaviors. Utilitarian values dominated the four broad themes that emerged from respondents' operationalization of stewardship, including: maintaining economically productive rangelands, protecting water resources, maintaining an aesthetically pleasing property, and providing for wildlife. Next, I sought to better understand the impact of incentives on durable conservation behaviors. As incentives can reduce intrinsic motivation, I used Self-Determination Theory as a framework for surveying participants in an existing conservation incentive program. The results suggest that landowners maintained their willingness to continue protecting a threatened bird species following the removal of an incentive. Each paper concludes with an analysis of findings within the context of the empirical literature, and present potential practical implications for future conservation efforts.



Stewardship, incentives, private lands, biodiversity, intrinsic motivation