Forest Stewardship Marketing

Posted: January 29, 2014

No matter how we slice and dice the owners of Pennsylvania’s private forests, they are, for sure, all different. Every day, woodland owners make decisions about how they will manage or use their land. Using data from three Pennsylvania woodland owner studies we learned about five woodland owner segments.

Pennsylvania has 738,000 woodland owners. That's right! We have nearly three-quarters of a million woodland owners who share ownership of the state's 11.5 million acres of privately held forests. The average Pennsylvania woodlot is about fifteen acres in size

Using data collected in three studies of Pennsylvania’s private woodland owners conducted in 2006, 2008 and 2010, we have some idea about what motivates people to own forested land. We also know that the average woodland owner is not commonly found. If we were describe that person, it is a male, about 57 years old, with at least some college education, making a pretty good income, living within a mile of his 15 acres of woodlands.

If you own woodlands, maybe that describes you. More than likely, it does not. For example, we know that about 500,000 of Pennsylvania's woodland owners hold less than 10 acres, and the average size for these small ownerships is less than 3 acres. Owners in the 10 to 19 acre size class are not the same as their smaller neighbors, and 1 in 4 private forest acres, about 3 million acres, is in ownerships of less than 20 acres. Looking further up the holding size class scale, there are only about 25,000 woodland owners with 100 acres or more.

Clearly, no matter how we slice and dice the owners of Pennsylvania's private forests, they are, for sure, all different. Every day, woodland owners make decisions about how they will manage or use their land. Consider for a moment that you would like to help woodland owners make informed decisions about the use of their land, planning for its future, or you want to help them find appropriate, useful information, about forests. Knowing they are very diverse, you might choose to try to reach groups of owners with your message. This is what marketing specialists do. They "segment" their audience.

When you purchase groceries or almost anything these days, someone collects data to segment you into a class that buys certain items or visits specific websites. They do this by using store cards, reward clubs, or by tracking your cookies from websites. Using that information, they create messages just for you and these show up in your email or as coupons on the back of a receipt. Market segmentation helps them reach out to you.

Using data from the three woodland owner studies we have created woodland owner segments. Don't worry, we won’t be sending you email messages or coupons. The data is protected by research protocol and besides we have not linked data to names, so it is impossible to know anything specific about you as an individual. We sought to understand the collective "you."

In our segment analysis, we specifically wanted to learn about woodland owners' intentions to pass land forward to their heirs, if that is an option. We also know that 80 percent of woodland owners would like the land to remain in their family, yet only 40 percent have involved family members in conversation about the land, and many fewer still have a plan in place. This is an interesting question because research has repeatedly shown that we have increasing numbers of owners and parcels sizes are resultantly becoming smaller. This trend makes it more difficult to manage forests for any number of values and it also makes it difficult to provide information and assistance to more people with diverse interests. Using responses to survey questions we identified five distinct segments.

Family subdivision -- Active managers: Members of this segment represent 12 percent of the owners (88,600 owners) and 33 percent of the private forest with an average ownership size of 37 acres. They actively manage their land by, for example, cutting timber and improving habitat. Reportedly 83 percent are males, averaging 60 years of age, 53 percent have four or more years of college education. Owners in this segment hold woodlands because they enjoy wildlife, owning land, and outdoor recreation; they also appreciate solitude and hunting. Having their land as part of their estate and planning to pass it onto the family is high on their "importance list." It is important to note that subdivision of their lands is on the table when they settle their estate. This will likely impact important activities they do on their land: recreation, hunting, habitat improvement, cutting firewood and timber. Interestingly, only 48 percent of these owners indicate having cut timber in the past 10 years. Owners in this segment believe healthy forests are important, that people should respect forests, and they generally have the right to use forests as they see fit. Considering this, they understand that people should actively manage forests and that forests are vulnerable to various threats.

The second segment entitled Recreation and wildlife -- No management contains the highest number of owners (25 percent / 184,500 owners) and the second largest amount of acres (29 percent) with an average ownership size of 17 acres. Demographically, these owners list themselves as being 64 years old, 36 percent are females, they are well educated (61 percent have completed a bachelor degree and have some graduate school experience). These owners hold their land for, in order, wildlife, solitude, enjoyment of ownership, and recreation. Ranked fifth in their ownership objectives, ahead of hunting, is an acknowledgement that they acquired their woodland because it came with the property they were interested in owning (be it farm or home). Recreation is the primary activity they engage in their woodlands, followed by cutting firewood, improving wildlife habitat, and hunting. This group is the only one for which forestland as part of the family estate did not rank in the top six reasons for ownership. Healthy forests are important to them and they believe that people should have more love and respect for forests. They also believe that people have a role to care for and protect forests.

Owners in the third segment, which we titled Undecided about the future -- All options on the table, is the third largest group by forest land held. We estimate that 17 percent of private owners (125,500) fall into this group and they hold about 25 percent of the private forests, with an average ownership of 22 acres. Respondents fitting into this segment are mostly male (89 percent) and are 56 years old. 38 percent of them have four or more years of college. Asked to describe their ownership objectives, owners in this segment hold woodlands for wildlife, the enjoyment of owning land, solitude, recreation, and as an estate for their family. Among the activities these owners have done on their land, they acknowledge recreating, cutting firewood, hunting, improving habitat, and cutting timber for sale. About 42 percent of owners in this segment have cut timber.

The next two segments relate to the large number of owners who hold small acreages. These are: Family subdivision -- No Management and Intact Legacy -- No Management. They differ primarily on how they plan to treat the land in the future. Both segments have strong interests in wildlife and solitude, enjoy owning land, consider land as part of the family estate, and engage in recreation and hunting activities. Those looking to subdivide the land represent 26 percent (192,000) of the owners and hold 7 percent of the state's private forest land with an average ownership of 4 acres. Those hoping to keep their land legacy intact represent 20 percent of the owners (148,000) and hold another 7 percent of the private forest land for an average ownership of 5 acres. In general they share stewardship orientations believing that we should respect forests, keep them healthy, and work with neighbors. They also believe they should use the land as they wish. Looking across the two segments, we find that women represented 39 percent of the respondents wanting to divide the land in order to keep it in their family. Women represented 24 percent of the respondents wanting to keep their land intact. These findings follow other studies that indicate women are often more likely to want to retain family land.  Average age in both segments is 59 years. Their education experience is a bit different with 30 percent and 39 percent with advanced degrees, subdivide and intact respectively.

The largest land holding segment (Family subdivision – Active management) is likely to subdivide their land into smaller parcels, which will make it more difficult to manage forests for many uses. Knowing how they like to receive information, especially about recreation, wildlife, and habitat improvement and that they see the land as part of the family estate, there is an opportunity to provide education materials about estate planning. Important vehicles for this are written materials, foresters, and other landowners. The third largest land holding segment (Undecided future) is still considering the future of their woodlands. This is the youngest segment with interests very similar to the Family Subdivision owners. They look to their land as part of their family estate, so they might be open to discussing their land’s future and we know that they turn to many sources of information, which provides potential avenues of engagement. The second largest segment by land area held (i.e., Recreation and Wildlife) enjoys their woodland in many ways, even though they apparently did not start off with a desire to hold land. Their survey responses do not suggest a strong concern about the land's future, although they seem to know that they should be good stewards and they use written information and foresters to learn about the land.

If you own woodlands, you might see yourself in one of these segments. You might agree with the assessment or find you don't fit into anyone of the five. Our goal in this analysis was to learn how to reach out to woodland owners with information about conserving their property for future generations so that it can continue to provide benefits that they can enjoy. Estate planning is an important part of the process. There are tools to help guide family discussions toward making decisions about the future of your woodlands. If you would like to learn more visit or call 800-235-9473 and we will gladly send you some recently created materials to steward your forest for the next generation.