From the picture of the threats to U.S. forestland and the challenge those threats pose for private forestland owners summarized in the previous chapter, the conversation turned to the characteristics of these landowners. Moderator Shorna Broussard Allred, associate professor at Cornell University, posed several questions: What drives their decisions? What sources of information do they draw upon to support the decisions they must make? Four presenters discussed what is known about forestland owners, their attitudes about and understanding of climate change, and strategies for engaging them in forest management.
PROFILE OF FORESTLAND OWNERS
Brett Butler, research forester with the U.S. Forest Service, presented recent results from the National Woodland Owner Survey, a census of forest owners conducted by the U.S. Forest Service.1 This survey asks forestland owners questions about their land and how they use and manage it, and about their own characteristics and their goals with respect to their land. The survey was conducted in 1993 and 2006, and then in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The Forest Service expects to administer it again in 2015. Butler presented preliminary 2011 results because the team was still processing the more recent data at the time of the workshop. The unpublished
FIGURE 2-1 U.S. forestland ownership by class, 2011.
SOURCE: Available: http://www.fia.fs.fed.us/nwos [May 2014].
results discussed at the workshop do not diverge significantly from those reported in 2006 (Butler, 2006).
Butler’s first point was that “forest owners rule,” in the sense that it will be essential to see forestland through the eyes of those who own so much of it. More than half of the forests (by acreage) in the United States are privately owned, and two-thirds of those owners are individuals, families, communities, and other non-incorporated groups (typically referred to as family forestland owners), as shown in Figure 2-1. The majority of private forestland owners own between one and nine acres,2 Butler noted, but many of the smallest parcels are actually urban and suburban land. Thus, a relatively large proportion of owners are associated with small parcels (particularly because many parcels are owned by couples and families), while the majority of forestland is rural (held in units of 10 acres or more). Among owners with more than 10 acres of forestland, the average holding is just under 60 acres. It is important to focus on both owners and acreage, Butler noted. The forestry community lacks tools and policies for working with suburban forestland owners, Butler observed, but is better equipped to deal with urban and rural owners.
According to the survey, owners with 10 or more acres have varied reasons for owning forestland. About 66 percent of owners, accounting for 57 percent of the land owned by this group, live on their forestland;
2See http://www.srs.fs.usda.gov/futures/reports/draft/Frame.htm [March 2014].
31 percent, accounting for 39 percent of the land, farm some portion of their forestland. These owners cite a range of reasons for owning their forestland, but their top five reasons are stable. While the ordering changed between 2006 and 2011, the top five reasons for those two years, respectively, were
- beauty/scenery (unchanged);
- part of home (2006), nature protection (2011);
- privacy, family legacy;
- nature protection, privacy; and
- family legacy, part of home.
Butler noted that financial objectives did not come up in the top five, but the most frequently cited financial objective was investment (i.e., value of the land itself), not timber production (i.e., the productivity of the land).
The survey also provides information about the steps private owners take to manage their forestland. The most common management activities are cutting trees for personal use, removing invasive plants, activity related to wildlife, maintaining trails, and cutting trees for commercial use. Much of the private forestland is not being managed, not because the owners do not want to take care of their land but because they are not sure what to do, Butler explained. This situation “presents a big opportunity,” Butler noted. Just 10 percent of owners, responsible for 23 percent of the forestland, report having implemented a management plan, and just 18 percent, responsible for 35 percent of the land, have received management advice. In Butler’s view, given that most landowners do not have management plans, alternative approaches to engage with forestland owners are needed. He suggested that potlucks and other informal ways of spreading the word may be effective in helping private forestland owners know where to turn for advice.
Forestland owners have many concerns about their property, Butler explained. Although climate change is on the list, it is not among the top 10 concerns the owners cited, which are, in decreasing order of frequency,
- Property taxes
- Keeping land intact
- Insects and diseases
- Water pollution
- Invasive plants
- Wind/ice storms
- Air pollution
- Off-road vehicles
- Global climate change
- Damage from animals
This window into the priorities of landowners reinforces the point that “we [scientists] need to couch our concerns in the context of their [private forestland owners] concerns,” and to understand who they are, Butler suggested. As a group, private forestland owners are relatively old—about 40 percent are 65 or older, and of that group about half are 70 or older. Seventy-nine percent are male—though Butler noted that in many cases the owner is a couple—and 95 percent are white. Forty-eight percent have a college degree, and 27 percent have an annual income of $100,000 or more. Owners responsible for about 20 percent of privately owned land (in parcels of 10 or more acres) reported being moderately or highly likely to sell their land in the next five years, Butler noted. This raises important questions, he noted: “Who will the next generation be? Will they have the same desires and concerns? Will we communicate with them differently?”
TARGETING FORESTLAND OWNERS
Mary Tyrrell, executive director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry within the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, built on this profile, describing the results of research that uses social marketing techniques, statistical analyses, and focus groups to explore forestland owners’ perspectives and views on climate change.3 First, she described four basic categories of owners, who differ in how they use and view their land, in their value systems, and in the sorts of messages that are likely to reach them.
One group (40 percent of owners) uses the land as a woodland retreat and is motivated primarily by stewardship. This group wants to protect and enjoy the forest’s beauty and wildlife. They tend to own a below-average acreage and account for 35 percent of privately owned forestland. “If you are trying to reach these folks,” Tyrrell explained, “you should talk about healthy woods, wildlife, conservation, recreation, and how to protect their land for the future.”
A second group (30 percent, accounting for 37 percent of the land) works the land—primarily as farmers who have wooded lots. This group also uses the land for recreation, including hunting. Individuals who belong to this group share some of the broader interests of the first group, but they also appreciate the financial value of their land, which is as important to them as stewards or the forestlands’ ecological health, Tyrrell noted. They share an ethic of respectful and judicious land use and will also respond to messages about protecting financial health (such as timber harvests that leave the land in good shape), and recreational uses.
A significantly smaller group (8 percent of owners, accounting for 12 percent of the land) uses their forestland for supplemental income (e.g., through timber harvest) or as an investment in land. This group is particularly interested in keeping the land intact for their heirs and in possibly increasing its value. Consequently, members of this group tend to be interested in reducing taxes and other liabilities, in cost-share and other incentive programs that increase financial returns, and in professional advice about managing and protecting their land.
The last group is described as “uninvolved” because they view the land as a general investment and prefer not to expend much time or attention on it. Twenty-two percent of the owners, accounting for 16 percent of the land, fall into this group, Tyrrell noted, but they do not tend to participate in focus groups. These are owners who do not report having strong values associated with their land and are likely to live elsewhere, or to be farming neighboring land but have minimal interest in the forested portion. Although there is little information about this group, Tyrrell speculated that they might be interested in messages about increasing their land’s value and keeping it intact for their heirs.
GOALS FOR EXTENSION PROGRAMMING
Janean Creighton, associate professor and extension specialist in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, described research on what forestland owners in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington know about climate change, the impacts of forest management on forest resilience to climate change, and how extension programs can best meet their needs. The work began in 2008 as a needs assessment, she explained, when forestry extension leaders in the region wanted to develop programs on climate change for private forestland owners. The research included 24 focus groups with 193 forestland owners who had participated in extension programs in the four states, and whose territory includes four distinct types of forest, as shown in Figure 2-2.
Some “very, very lively discussions” developed during the focus group sessions, Creighton explained, and it became clear that the concept
FIGURE 2-2 Northwest and Alaskan forestland categories.
SOURCE: Grotta et al. (2013).
of climate change was very value-laden, political, and emotional for the individuals who participated. The participants reported that they received their information about climate change primarily from the media. This included news outlets from Fox News to NPR, Creighton noted, but the information was “usually very passively gathered.” Although some
of the participants were scientists or reported getting information from extension programs or other university experiences, the group as a whole reported significant skepticism about science, she added. She noted that the information was collected in 2009—and owners’ thinking may have changed since then—but that at that time, many of the participants perceived that the scientific community could not agree, and that much research may be influenced by financial incentives and politics.
In general, this group—with the exception of those living in Alaska—did not believe that climate change was affecting their forests. The owners were accustomed to dealing with problems such as insects, fire, disease, and the like, she noted, but they did not perceive those problems as being connected to climate change. Owners in Alaska, however, reported that they were seeing direct effects of climate change, including loss of permafrost and receding glaciers, and that these changes were happening rapidly—much more so than any changes perceptible in the Pacific Northwest.
The forestland owners reported during the focus groups that they had made few or no changes in their forest management practices because of climate change. As in the past, Creighton explained, they were interested in managing to preserve the resilience of their forestland, maintain biodiversity, and protect its beauty and value. They said they were very interested in practical information and management advice that was relevant to their region.
A few common themes emerged from this work, Creighton suggested. First, she and her colleagues concluded that the forestland owners were not uninterested in learning more about climate change, but rather skeptical, though willing to be convinced. For the owners, the issues of most concern in terms of forest management reflected a shorter time horizon than that for the projected effects of climate change. They worry about timber harvests, the need to replant to replace lost trees, and so forth, rather than more distant threats, she explained. They indicated that they did not have enough information on local impacts to suggest changes they should make. They perceived the effects of climate change as very gradual, Creighton explained, and they “thought there would be time enough to respond as they saw things changing over time.” The owners were very mindful of risk, she added, and were reluctant to “change practices now to adapt to some scenario that might occur in the future.”
Creighton and her colleagues developed several suggestions for extension programming based on these findings:
- The forestland owners told the researchers that they would like help sorting through the competing claims they saw in the news, and Creighton and her colleagues suggested that transparency and
education with respect to the way scientists conduct and fund their work and submit it for review by their peers would help the forestland owners better understand the issues.
- Information framed in the context of local conditions, including both the specific nature of the forestland and local cultural traditions associated with the forest, would be most meaningful to the landowners.
- Programming could help forestland owners increase their understanding of modeling and the range of uncertainty in scientists’ projections, because these concepts are critical to understanding climate change.
- Programming could build on what the forest management owners are already doing to increase adaptation.
- Programming could directly address forest policy and its impacts, to counter perceptions that climate change policies themselves can be a threat to landowners’ interests.
Geoffrey Feinberg, a research specialist at Yale University’s Project on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC), also discussed research on views of climate change, based on work conducted by the YPCCC. The YPCCC explores what the public knows about climate change, how great a risk they believe it to be, and what drives their decision making related to it. The YPCCC also designs and tests strategies for engaging the public in climate science topics and solutions.
Feinberg began with an overview of Americans’ views on climate change. The majority of Americans believe that global warming is occurring, though the percentage that do so fluctuates, as Figure 2-3 shows. However, only half of survey respondents believe that climate change is being caused by human activity and that percentage also fluctuates (from 57 percent in late 2008 to 49 percent in early 2013); one in three survey respondents believes that while climate change is happening, it is due to natural causes. Only 42 percent of Americans know, Feinberg added, that scientists are virtually unanimous (97 percent) in thinking that humans are causing climate change; 33 percent believe that there is significant disagreement among scientists. This is important, Feinberg noted, because “our research indicates that if you can get people to understand that climate scientists agree that climate change is happening, that is the gateway to getting them to understand some of the other important things about climate change.”
In surveying the public about their views about climate change,
FIGURE 2-3 Perceived reality of global warming.
SOURCE: Leiserowitz et al. (2014).
Feinberg and his colleagues have identified six categories of people, which they call the “Six Americas.”4 These categories are as follows:
- Alarmed (16 percent). This group knows that climate change is caused by humans and believes that it is an urgent and serious threat. They have taken personal action to help mitigate climate change, such as recycling and buying hybrid cars. Demographically, they tend to be women, middle-aged, college educated, and moderate to liberal politically.
- Concerned (26 percent). This group also knows that global warming is real and serious, and they agree that it requires policy intervention. They are somewhat less involved than the alarmed group and less likely to take steps to reduce their own carbon footprint. Demographically, they resemble a cross-section of Americans.
4See http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/files/Six-Americas-March-2012.pdf [February 2014].
They tend to have egalitarian values and are fairly moderate politically.
- Cautious (25 percent). This group views global warming as a problem, but not as an urgent or near-term personal threat—they feel less urgency to act than the first two groups. The cautious group includes both Democrats and Republicans, but they are not very civically engaged.
- Disengaged (5 percent). This group is not interested in the issue and does not know much about it, but they are the most likely of all to say they could change their minds about it. They are comparatively less educated than the other groups, and have a lower average income. Minority women are over-represented in this group.
- Doubtful (15 percent). This group is undecided—some believe that global warming is happening and some do not, but most think that it is not caused by human actions. They do not view it as an imminent threat. They are older than the other groups and more likely to be white. They are predominantly fairly well-educated Republican men, and they have strongly individualistic values.
- Dismissive (13 percent). This group believes very strongly that climate change is a hoax and is actively engaged and vocal on the issue. This group is predominantly male and politically conservative. They are politically active and strongly oppose a policy response to climate change. They hold firm traditional religious beliefs and reject most government intervention.
Feinberg closed with the suggestion that learning how the four types of forestland owners described by Tyrrell are situated within this typology of “Six Americas” would make it easier to tailor messages to the owners. For example, he suggested, if one knew that many of the owners who use their forestland for supplemental income were in the cautious or doubtful categories, it would make sense to focus on the message that renewable energy is valuable because it will help make the United States energy independent, rather than messages about saving the planet and endangered species. While communication efforts with the dismissives probably will not be particularly fruitful, he opined, approaching owners with messages that reflect their concerns is most likely to be successful.
Questions and discussion touched on several of the issues raised in the presentations. One participant was concerned about the lack of under-
standing of the science of climate change and how that can be addressed. Mary Tyrrell suggested that the best approach may be to simply leave climate change out of conversations with forestland owners. The owners are already concerned about many of the problems that are likely to increase as the climate changes, such as invasive species. It may be just as effective to talk to the owners about what to do about these problems specifically as to push education about climate change, in her view. She added that “if you can get landowners working together on landscape-scale issues, maybe you can achieve something on the ground without having to have a battle about whether they are going to believe that climate change is happening or not.”
Janean Creighton agreed, but noted that there is disagreement among some extension professionals about this, because leaving climate change out of the discussions is not completely honest. Some people are convinced that “you need to let people know what the long-term problem is and that is climate change,” she observed. On the other hand, Geoffrey Feinberg noted, “there is some research suggesting that education often simply serves to arm people with information they need to better argue their preconceived notions—so it may be best to approach people on the level of their concerns.”
Another participant was concerned that talking with landowners and others about their beliefs with respect to climate change is a mistake. “Belief comes out of cultures and societies,” the participant commented, “but in science, we accept or reject hypotheses,” adding that calling acceptance of the science a belief may undermine efforts to address misunderstanding of the science. The panelists acknowledged the point but several observed that for some people, this issue is in the realm of belief. They may lack understanding of models and projections, but they associate climate change with other controversial natural resource topics that raise beliefs about, for example, the rights of animals or the relative value of endangered species. It may be necessary to address people in the language they are accustomed to in order to reach them, several participants and panelists suggested.
A related point concerned the issue of credibility. One participant noted that “there are some people who have adopted what we [extension agents] have been advocating for, but because of current marketplace issues, they cannot move forward.” They are likely to distrust further recommendations if previous recommendations from extension agents had negative environmental or economic consequences. Similarly, many in the Pacific Northwest group who participated in the focus groups, Creighton noted, believe that the impact of regulations would make it even more difficult for them to manage their lands. They feel they
are already experiencing severe restrictions and heavy regulations, for example, to protect salmon habitat and spotted owls, she explained. “They are concerned that there is going to be another public good that is recognized” and that will mean more control over how they manage that public good, she added.