Fall 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA1

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Public Forest Stewardship Ethic

The national Forest Stewardship Program offers Extension professionals an opportunity to interact with a largely untapped audience, eight million people strong, that's becoming increasingly important. These people own the nonindustrial private forests. Pennsylvania's Forest Stewardship program demonstrates the essential role Extension philosophy and practice can play in implementing natural resources programming.

Stephen B. Jones
Associate Professor
Forest Resources Extension, Cooperative Extension
Penn State University-University Park
Internet address: fj4@psuvm.psu.edu

James C. Finley
Assistant Professor,
Forest Resources Extension, Cooperative Extension
Penn State University

The national Forest Stewardship Program offers Extension professionals an opportunity to interact with a largely untapped audience, eight million people strong, that's becoming increasingly important. These people own the nonindustrial private forests (NIPFs), which constitute 58% of the nation's forest acreage. Their willingness and ability to manage their forestlands for long-term, multiple benefits is key to the preservation of forests as a sustainable and necessary resource, both for themselves and for society at large-a fact that was pivotal in the creation of the national Forest Stewardship Program under the 1990 Farm Bill.

Timber is a strategic national economic resource and forests are an essential cultural resource for wildlife, recreation, aesthetics, water and biological diversity. Industry-owned lands are already producing timber at near capacity, while the government is under increasing pressure to reduce timber production on public lands, which transfers the burden to NIPFs. Yet, these forests are generally poorly managed for meeting society's long-term demand for products and amenities. Thus, the Forest Stewardship Program's goal is to bring an additional 25 million acres of NIPFs under stewardship management within five years.

Federal Expectations

The 1990 Farm Bill established a U.S. Forest Service state partnership, through which federal dollars are used in the states to encourage landowners to develop and follow forest stewardship plans. A cost-share incentive program can be applied to the full array of management activities, including developing a stewardship plan.

Annual acreage targets and a prescribed framework for program delivery, overseen by a state forester, characterize the Forest Service's expectations for state stewardship program development. The Forest Service strongly recommends technical service delivery to landowners through traditional methods of one -on-one technical help. However, Marty observed that in the Northeast, available resources are simply inadequate to serve the needs of NIPF landowners in this way.1 The fact that a stewardship program is badly needed suggests that traditional approaches encouraging NIPF owners to practice sound forestry haven't worked.

Pennsylvania's NIPF Situation

One-half million people own Pennsylvania's 12 million acres of nonindustrial private forests. Average length of ownership is less than 15 years, resulting in nearly 33,000 new forestland owners annually! Lack of knowledge about forestry is pervasive among forestland owners. Regulations governing forestry practices, other than those protecting water quality, are nonexistent and no professional certification or licensing procedure for professional foresters exists.

Only an estimated 10% of Pennsylvania's NIPFs are covered by written forest management plans and less than 20% of the timber harvesting from them is supervised by a professional forester. Because NIPFs in Pennsylvania supply about 80% of the raw material for the nation's largest hardwood industry, the potential for long-term forest resource degradation is high.

The urgency of this situation prompted Penn-sylvania's statewide Forest Stewardship Steering Committee (which includes Extension specialists) to go beyond the traditional approach recommended by the Forest Service. The committee's goal was to formulate a program that would raise the level of forestry awareness of all citizens, while also delivering technical services to individual NIPF landowners. In effect, this "new approach" in forestry reflects the essence of Extension philosophy and practice.

Program Philosophy

Pennsylvania's program is rooted in the belief that landowners will neither develop nor implement a plan that has long-term meaning for them unless they've embraced a forest stewardship ethic. That requires an educational outreach program to help them learn more about their unique relationship to the land, their neighbors, society, and the future.

In designing the program, the advisory committee recognized the need to inform the general citizenry as well as landowners. Landowners need widespread support for their forest management objectives because public opinion has increasing influence over land management policies and practices.

The committee also found that both forestland owners and the public share misconceptions about timber harvesting, an essential tool of forest management. When asked in a recent statewide survey, most landowners and general public respondents agreed that timber harvesting usually results in soil erosion, muddy streams, permanent loss of forest cover, and destruction of wildlife habitat.2

These widely held beliefs may result from personal observation of poor timber harvesting practices as well as lack of knowledge about the actual consequences of properly managed harvesting.

Diffusion of Innovation

Rogers and Shoemaker's diffusion of innovation concept served as the model for Pennsylvania's program, which included the classic three phases of awareness, knowledge, and adoption.3


Given that one in 10 Pennsylvania households owns forestland and the high turnover rate among owners, mass media was selected as the primary means for providing landowners and the public with a rudimentary understanding of forest stewardship.

Television and radio advertisements and public service announcements reached all major market areas of the state during an eight-week period in Spring 1992. Additional awareness efforts included the use of newspaper and magazine feature articles and news releases, the appearance of forest stewardship spokespeople on television and radio programs, exhibits, and a poster. The awareness messages employed a visually or verbally friendly, low- key approach to inform audiences of the multiple benefits forests provide for everyone, stressed the need for informed management practices to maintain forests as a renewable resource, and offered a toll-free number answered at Penn State that people could call to learn more about Pennsylvania's Forest Stewardship Program.

A four-color brochure with general information about the program was also published and distributed widely. People who call the toll-free number receive the brochure, which features a tear-off panel to mail in for more information. Respondents supply their name, address, and forest ownership status (if a forest owner, how many acres and in what county). Returned tear- off panels contribute to a database of actual or potential forest stewards in target audiences.


The knowledge component of the program targets landowners and others who commonly make or influence forestry decisions, such as natural resource professionals, loggers, and local and state lawmakers. Goals were to develop and disseminate information to instill a stewardship ethic among these audiences. The approach was to provided incentives for good management practices through public support and to emphasize the practical, economic, and environmental benefits of sound forest management ("What's in it for me?").

Program materials and delivery mechanisms included landowner workshops, a quarterly newsletter, technical bulletins, county landowner associations, direct mail, logger training and certification, service provider training, a volunteer recruitment and training program, and video productions. By June 1992, more than 4,000 names, mostly NIPF owners who had either sent in the brochure tear-off or attended a workshop, had been entered into the state's forest stewardship database. The Forest Stewardship Quarterly was sent to all names in the database. People identified as NIPF owners were referred to their Bureau of Forestry district office. A service forester called, then visited the landowners, conducting the initial step of the adoption phase.


The federally mandated measure of program accomplishment is acres reported under forest stewardship management plans. Service foresters, with help from trained volunteers, contacted landowners, urging them to adopt a stewardship plan and telling them how to secure incentive program cost-share dollars to support the cost of preparing and implementing the plan. A natural resource manager (foresters, wildlife biologists, and other specialists as needed) followed up on the initial landowner contact and prepared the stewardship management plan on a fee basis.

Pennsylvania will try to meet the target acreage within the five-year time frame. But because the program began with broad- based awareness and educational effort, the acreage brought under management plans won't be distributed evenly over the 1990-1995 period. The first acres were, in fact, not reported until June 1992. However, awareness and education, as well as time for an individual's stewardship ethic to mature, are essential to landowners developing an effective, long-term stewardship management plan.

Public Education Approach

Pennsylvania's approach to the national Forest Stewardship Program has differed from the singular path suggested (if not mandated) by Congress and the Forest Service. Pennsylvania is second only to New York in terms of both acreage target and Forest Service dollars committed. The program's public education techniques are untested, at least on a massive scale, in the forest resources arena. More than 20 months into the program, no acres were reported. Pennsylvania's contractual linkage to Penn State Cooperative Extension for the awareness and knowledge components is unprecedented. The Forest Service is genuinely anxious about the potential for Congressional criticism, especially if a sufficient number of acres aren't soon brought under stewardship management. Although viewed with skepticism by the Forest Service, the Pennsylvania program has been greeted with enthusiasm by other state forestry agencies and Extension Services. More than a dozen states have inquired about adopting Pennsylvania's television advertisements.

Early results from our survey of the general public and NIPF owners support Pennsylvania's approach. Ninety-eight percent of all respondents agreed that "people need more information on how to take better care of forests." Interestingly, while 77% of the general public respondents believe "government cost sharing," a major federal Forest Stewardship vehicle, is an effective forest management promotion strategy, only 43% of NIPF owners agreed. This suggests landowners may inherently distrust programs perceived to have government strings attached. By contrast, 99% of the general public and 98% of landowners feel education is an effective forest management promotion strategy.4 The need for, and rationale behind, a forest resources Extension program is evident.

Expanded Extension Role

Pennsylvania's Forest Stewardship Program demonstrates the essential role Extension philosophy and practice can play in implementing natural resources programming. Extension is a major player in Pennsylvania's Forest Stewardship Program for several reasons, which can be translated to recommendations for others:

  1. State specialists maintained a long-term relationship of service and cooperation with the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, pre-dating the availability of stewardship funding; thus, a strong foundation of performance, delivery, and trust had already been established.

  2. State specialists actively participated at the state steering committee level, proposing and justifying the essential role of Extension education in moving the program forward.

  3. The School of Forest Resources, College of Agricultural Sciences, and Penn State responded quickly and favorably to requests for in-kind faculty, staff, and institutional support for conducting the program's awareness and knowledge thrusts.

  4. Specialists were able to support their Extension involvement with their own and others' new and ongoing research.

  5. Extension was able to respond and fulfill its important role only because specialists and administrators had recognized the rising demand for forest resources programming and were prepared to participate proactively in shaping a federally funded state program.


1. R. Marty, "Retargeting Public Forestry Assistance Programs in the North," in Non-Industrial Private Forests: A Review of Economic and Policy Studies, J. P. Royer and C. D. Risbrudt, eds. (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University, 1983), p. 398.

2. S. B. Jones and others, "The Impact of the Forest Service Media Campaign on Attitudes and Knowledge of the Stewardship Program in Pennsylvania" (USFS-funded project, Penn State University, University Park, 1992).

3. E. M. Rogers and F. F. Shoemaker, Communication of Innovation, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1971), p. 476.

4. Jones and others, "The Impact of the Forest Service Media Campaign."