Public Attitudes about Private Forest Management and Government Involvement in the Southeastern United States

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In the southern United States the country’s top wood-producing region, factors such as intergenerational land transfer and population spillover from urban areas have resulted in forestland conversion and reduced production of critical ecosystem services associated with forest systems (e.g., timber, clean water supply, wildlife habitat). Public attitudes, which drive forestland policy prescriptions, may also be evolving due to the way people experience and perceive forests (e.g., recreation), and think about the role of government in private forest decisions. These changes have significant implications for forestland management and the forest-based economy, both locally and globally. We present the results of a regional survey (n = 1669) of residents in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, which assessed attitudes toward timber harvesting and government involvement on private lands. We found significant public support for timber harvesting with a somewhat stronger focus on ecosystem maintenance compared to timber production, and strong support for policies that empower landowners (e.g., assistance programs) over regulatory strategies. We conclude that existing government policies and programs are failing to help landowners meet public demand for ecosystem service provision on private forest lands in the southeastern US. Public attitudes appear conducive to innovative policy strategies such as market-based solutions and nudges. Perceptions of forest health will likely be the metric the public and landowners will use in assessing the value of policy alternatives, in addition to economic impact. Public ignorance and indierence towards forest management also appear to be growing.

Gaining voter support for watershed protection

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Public officials and stakeholders who want to advance watershed protection may want to consider how ballot referendum design can serve as a nudge in voting behaviors. We extend the research literature on voter preferences by using behavioral economics theory to provide new insights into voter behaviors towards watershed conservation referendums. We drew upon observations from 76 separate watershed protection referendums, conducted in the eastern U.S. from 1991 to 2013, and evaluated the wording of the ballot statement to determine their potential influence on voter support and the psychology of voting. Data were fitted to weighted least squares regression models to allow for broader inferences about voting behaviors. We found shorter ballot referendums with broad or vague descriptions of expected benefits and fewer descriptions of funding mechanisms likely increased the perceived odds of a favorable outcome and subsequently increased likelihood of a yes vote.

The Role of Community Identity in Cattlemen Response to Florida Panther Recovery Efforts

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Using a case study of the Florida cattlemen community, we examine how cattlemen understand and perceive regulatory efforts to recover the Florida panther on private ranch lands. The data comes from participants in the Florida cattlemen community, and was collected through in-depth interviews ( 13), group interviews (n 32), and written comments associated with a survey about panther conservation (n 78). Our findings indicate that some cattlemen in Florida have a strong sense of community identity. Perceptions of government actions and variation in economic risks are critical factors in understanding how this community responds to federal interventions.

Economic and Ethical Motivations for Forest Restoration and Incentive Payments

Private forest owners are both the suppliers and consumers of forest ecosystem services which poses a unique challenge to using incentive-based strategies to encourage forest restoration. We used focus groups and deliberative monetary valuation (DMV) methods to understand the choices of forest owners in Mississippi and Florida. Participants acted as jurors and made judgements about what actions a hypothetical forest owner should make when offered compensation to enhance key ecosystem services. Fifteen major themes were identified via qualitative data analysis. Results support a proposed conceptual model that links perspectives toward forest management with the expression of cultural values and choice. Allocation of income to ecosystem improvements revealed that intentional forest owners seek to maximize utility through personal achievement benefits, rather than income generation alone …

Assessing the Value Extension Adds to Decision Making among Natural Resources Leaders

Extension professionals face challenges in quantifying the impact of their efforts in advancing the decision-making process inherent in setting natural resources policy. We developed a flexible tool that measures the impact of improving decision makers’ planning efforts. The tool consists of two sets of survey questions that can be modified to fit an Extension program’s goals. We illustrated how to use the tool by surveying leaders working with private forest owners to advance natural resources management. However, the tool can be of use to Extension professionals across various program areas.

Can Payments for Watershed Services Help Advance Restoration of Longleaf Pine? A Critically Engaged Research Approach

Private forests in the southeastern US are critical for providing a variety of ecosystem services, including timber production and water resource protection. Restoration of longleaf pine (LLP) forests and savannas tends to enhance some ecosystem services, including water supply, over timber production. A variety of payments for watershed services (PWS) strategies have emerged to address the market failure associated with private forests and public water supply. The nature of these programs suggests that biodiversity protection may be a positive externality, or third-party benefit, to water resource protection. This paper uses a critically engaged research approach and expert interviews to investigate how PWS programs may help prevent land use change and promote LLP restoration. We also offer recommendations on how to sustain emerging efforts to implement PWS strategies while including LLP restoration objectives.