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Harvard Forest Symposium Abstract 2009

  • Title: It's the network: How personal relationships shape decisions about private forests
  • Primary Author: David Kittredge (University of Massachusetts - Amherst )
  • Additional Authors: Angelica Erazo (University of Puerto Rico); Mark Rickenbach (University of Wisconsin -- Madison); Emma Snellings (Gettysburg College)
  • Abstract:

    In many parts of the United States, roughly 40% of forest is in non-industrial, private ownership, and in much of the eastern US, as much as 75% of all forest is in this category. Nationally, surveys and participation rates suggest most owners do not participate in traditional management or technical assistance programs, nor do they obtain professional advice prior to a management decision such as the sale of timber. Based on this knowledge of what most landowners do not do, we posed a relatively simple research question: To whom do landowners turn when making decision about their lands?

    We combined information search and processing theory and egocentric network analysis to begin understanding the role of others (i.e., alters) in landowner (i.e., ego) decision-making. We conducted structured interviews with 47 landowners who had made a significant management decision about their land in the last two years (i.e., timber harvested, or grant a conservation easement). Based on these data, we determined the extent of landowners' egocentric networks related to their land, and in particular to their decision, and evaluated each alters' role in the decision-making process. Furthermore, we determined the satisfaction these landowners had with their decision. Continued analysis will measure the relationships among satisfaction, landowner characteristics, and egocentric network characteristics.

    Preliminary results indicate that there appear to be networks of people around woodland owners, and a subset thereof involved in a specific decision and its implementation. In addition, owners seemed more satisfied with the easement decision, than those who had made a timber sale decision, and, were more confident of the people involved in their easement decision, than those others involved in the timber sale decision. This is despite the fact that a conservation easement is a more serious and complicated legal, financial, and potentially intergenerational step compared with timber harvesting. Peer landowners and so-called 'locals' appear to be more significant sources of information in these landowner networks than relatives or neighbors.

    Further work is needed to clarify the potential role of social networks in landowner decision making and their application in outreach methods to promote or assist in conservation, especially at spatial scales that exceed individual properties. Understanding social networks might suggest successful alternatives to connect owners with professionals. More study is needed to confirm these preliminary results, and further explore the knowledge transfer via these informal paths.

  • Research Category: Conservation and Management