Private Forest Landowners in Virginia and Ecosystem Management: An Analysis of Attitudes and Opportunities


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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this study was to analyze landowner perceptions of an ecosystem management program proposed by The Nature Conservancy. This creation of this program, The Forest Bank, is an attempt to protect the unique ecological and biological resources of the Clinch River Valley of Southwest Virginia. This study analyzed the attitudes and characteristics of landowners that contribute to their decision to enroll in such a program. Data were collected by a 8-page mail questionnaire sent to 2000 landowners in a five-county area of Southwest Virginia. The final sample size resulting from this effort was 816 landowner surveys, representing an overall response rate of 45%.

Two separate analyses were undertaken with respect to this data, each representing a unique and informative approach to landowners and The Forest Bank. The first analysis summarizes how landowners perceived the individual components of the program, their level of interest in enrollment, and what types of landowners would be most likely to express interest in such a program. Twenty-three percent of landowners expressed interest in enrolling in The Forest Bank at some time. In general, those interested in enrollment perceived the individual components of the program differently than those who were not interested in enrolling. Landowners who expressed enrollment interest were more likely to be younger, more affluent, more educated than those who did not express interest in enrollment.

The second analysis employed a structural equation model in order to determine what attitudes and motivations influence attitudes toward an ecosystem management program such as The Forest Bank. Variables such as attitudes toward property rights, environmental attitudes, trust in sources of information, and level of community attachment were included in this model. Results indicate that while attitudes toward property rights and the environment were not as important as previous literature suggested, landowner reasons for owning land were key indicators in determining attitudes toward The Forest Bank.

Results from this study provide valuable information to managers and researchers concerning landowner attitudes toward ecosystem management and their level of interest in enrolling in an ecosystem management program. This information will help managers better understand how landowners perceive individual components of these types of programs, as well as determining the types of landowners who would be interested in enrolling. These findings can then be used to tailor programs that are more consistent with landowner objectives, and to better understand the complex attitudes and characteristics of private forest



nonindustrial private forest landowners, forest fragmentation, landowner attitudes, ecosystem management