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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2010

  • Title: It's the network: How personal connections shape decisions about private forest use. 2010
  • Primary Author: David Kittredge (University of Massachusetts - Amherst )
  • Additional Authors: Mark Rickenbach (University of Wisconsin -- Madison)
  • Abstract:

    Title: It's the network: How personal connections shape decisions about private forest use

    Researchers: David Kittredge, UMass Amherst and Harvard Forest

    Mark Rickenbach, University of Wisconsin Madison


    Forested landscapes provide a wealth of invaluable ecosystem services and public benefits. In many parts of the eastern United States, these landscapes are commonly divided into thousands of small, private ownerships. Industrial and large public ownerships are islands in an otherwise patchwork of small ownerships. Individual landowners are periodically presented with choices or opportunities (e.g., sell the land, subdivide it, develop it, place an easement on it, or harvest timber from it) that collectively determine landscape patterns, and the quality and quantity of ecosystem services. Although a small percentage of landowners seek professional assistance in the management of their land, for most landowners, decisions are reactive—based on immediate need rather than on a full understanding of property-scale alternatives or landscape-scale impacts. Regardless of decision quality, forested landscapes reflect the pattern of decision-making spatially and temporally.

    We plan to study landowner decision making in two ways. First, social network analysis (SNA) is an approach used to understand how relationships among individuals shape decision-making. It is premised on the idea that connections between individuals are important in how they make decisions. For example, the decision to go to a movie often rests on which friends are/are not going. The study of social networks has recently emerged as an alternative approach for understanding the relationship between people and the environment. SNA measures the number and quality of connections between individuals, where quality can include strength, frequency of use, subjects held in common, spatial and temporal extent, and complexity.

    The second approach we'll employ is review of property deeds and other real estate data for selected points on the landscape. This builds on a pilot study in 2009 which initiated a long-term framework or network of points at which land owner decisions are and will be sampled over time. In essence, through this methodology, we study behavior enacted on the landscape, rather than individual people. Data derived from this network and sampling will inform land use scenario modeling efforts to forecast the future trajectory of the landscape, its rate of change, and subsequent potential provision of ecosystem services.

    For our SNA work, we'll use a mail survey sent to landowners in southern VT and NH to investigate the nature of landowner social networks and decision making. Questions include:

     Do landowners exchange information with one another about their experiences and goals for their land?

     What role do landscape and/or community values play in such discussions?

     How do these discussions influence the ultimate decision a landowner makes?

     Is the further development of social networks among landowners a reasonable public policy goal to ensure public benefits from private land?

    Tasks include acquisition of landowner names and addresses, testing of the survey, mailing and administration of the survey, and data entry and analysis.

    In short, this study is part of larger efforts that seek to understand how people shape environments, and if or how they learn from one another through their actions.

  • Research Category: Conservation and Management