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Incentives or Information? Supporting stronger public-private forest management partnerships in Michigan

Incentives or Information? Supporting stronger public-private forest management partnerships in Michigan

Project Period: 2016-2018

Government programs in Michigan offer a range of financial benefits, support, and training options to help private forest owners conserve and use their forests sustainably. Currently, participation rates in these programs are very low, particularly given the large pool of potential participants and many types of available opportunities. Increasing participation in existing programs has the potential to enhance positive forest outcomes and economic benefits for private landowners. Our project will build on past research supported by McIntire-Stennis (M-S) to examine whether active vs. passive information or different levels of financial incentives work better to encourage participation in forestry-related programs. We will test three hypotheses: 1) providing passive or active information about programs is more effective and more cost effective compared to cash incentives; 2) active, in-person meetings are more effective and more cost effective compared to information made available passively by mail; and 3) landowners with larger landholdings and past experience actively managing forests will be more likely to participate overall. We will use a rigorous, randomized-control-trial-based experimental design to analyze differences in participation, comparing the effects of four treatments against each other and for control group. Participation studies within the environmental arena rarely if ever compare two classes of treatments (incentives vs. information) with two types within each class (active vs. passive information, high vs. low incentives). This study will thus make a unique and important contribution to the academic literature, and to improving participation in Michigan environmental programs. The design of the study as the potential to be used for other participation focused research questions.

The proposed research will examine participation in forestry programs in four counties in Southeast Michigan (Alpena, Barry, Newaygo and Washtenaw). We have extensive baseline data, created using past M-S support, which includes information on landowner characteristics (i.e., pre-treatment attitudes towards forests, past participation in forest programs, landholding size, and forest management style/activities) relevant to assess balance across treatment and control groups.

In addition to several peer-reviewed publications, we will summarize the results of the project into a policy/practitioner brief with our key findings for forestry-oriented agencies in Michigan. The results can be used to inform programs aimed at increasing participation, particularly among landholders who currently manage their forests passively (i.e., without applying active interventions), We will also produce a description of the format of the active workshops such that, should they successfully increase participation, agencies can run them in other locations around the state, and the country.