Decades of research on family woodland owners confirm a few well-established findings. Many landowners enjoy owning land for multiple benefits but are passive, only seeking information and actively managing their land during periods of economic need or opportunity. Traditional landowner assistance programs rely almost exclusively on one-on-one interaction between natural resource professionals and landowners. While effective, there are insufficient fiscal and human resources to meaningfully engage the 10 million family forest owners across the U.S. one-on-one. This leaves many “prime prospect” woodland owners unengaged due to a lack of natural resource professional outreach capacity and incongruency between forestry program communications and owner motivations.
Furthermore, though strongly committed to land stewardship, many family woodland owners choose not to participate in existing landowner assistance programs. For many, this is driven by lack of awareness or interest in such programs and less than effective communication and program design. In many cases woodland owners manage their land in ways that produce sub-optimal private and public outcomes, reducing the health and productivity of the nation’s forest resource.
One way to address these challenges is to use outreach models that focus on empowerment and reducing barriers to communication. For example, woodland owner peer learning based on “master” program volunteer models extend the reach of traditional expert-focused approaches such as face-to-face workshops. Other, less formal models leverage existing personal networks to get information into landowners’ hands when they need it, and from trusted, familiar sources.