February 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB3

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Forestry Demonstrations: What Good is a Walk in the Woods?

Although outdoor demonstrations are a traditional Extension methodology, few studies have documented the educational efficacy of forestry tours. An assessment of the educational effectiveness of Forest Stewardship demonstration in Pennsylvania found that demonstrations enhance learning and induce attitude shifts. Participants tested before the workshop, after an indoor session, and following the field tour scored differently on questions revealing their knowledge of forests and forestry, as well as their attitudes about timber harvesting and clearcutting. Acceptance of clearcutting as a viable forestry tool occurred only after participants toured the demonstration are, including its two-acre clearcut. Demonstrations provide an excellent forum for addressing controversial issues.

Alison H. Harmon
Graduate Assistant
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Internet address: alh139@psu.edu

Stephen B. Jones
Extension Director
Auburn Univeristy, Alabama
Internet address: sjones@acesag.auburn.edu

The outdoor field demonstration is a popular educational tool for Extension programs. People young and old seem to prefer to learn in this manner (Riesenberg & Gor, 1989; Rznewnicki, 1991). But, considering the widespread use of field demonstrations, evaluations of educational effectiveness are surprisingly rare. Educational programs need to be evaluated to allow educators to choose among alternative teaching tools, activities, or delivery styles. Because monetary resources are limited in Extension education, they should be spent providing programs that have been demonstrated to be effective (Pigg 1980; Andrews, 1983). This study assessed the educational effectiveness of a Forest Stewardship Demonstration in Pennsylvania.

More than 70% of Pennsylvania's extensive forested lands are non-industrial private forests (NIPFs) owned by more than a half million individuals and families (Birch & Stelter, 1993). These landowners make decisions that affect the long-term viability of Pennsylvania's hardwood industry (a $5 billion industry that employs 100,000), in addition to the sustainability of the broader set of values that society expects from even private forests. While there is a growing need for landowners to be knowledgeable of forest ecology and silviculture principles, most landowners in Pennsylvania say that they need more information to responsibly manage their forests (Luloff, Wilkinson, Schwartz, Finley, Jones, & Humphrey, 1993).

Timber harvesting, a primary tool of forest management, is used by foresters not only to yield commercial products, but also to maintain healthy and productive forest ecosystems. Unfortunately, misconceptions about timber harvesting can fuel conflicts among landowners, forest resource professionals, timber harvesters and the public (Jones & Finley, 1995). Because trees and forests enrich our lives in so many ways, timber harvesting has become an emotional and controversial issue. Understanding natural forest processes, as well as some of the basic principles of forest management, may allow the citizens of the Commonwealth to re-evaluate their views and more realistically balance consumptive needs and wants with what the forest can sustainably provide. Timber harvesting must remain a viable management tool. Educational programming may play a significant role in reducing natural resource conflicts by providing an opportunity for and facilitating dialogue among the various interest groups (Jones & Finley, 1993).

Demonstrating the various timber harvesting practices that are employed in Pennsylvania is the educational method that this research explores. An Extension education project coordinated by Pennsylvania State University is intended to introduce landowners, the general public, foresters and loggers to the role that timber harvesting plays in sustaining forests. The project, entitled "Integrating Sustainable Forestry into Total Farm Management," is funded by the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. Cooperators include the USDA Forest Service, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks, the Timber Harvesting Council of Pennsylvania, and Tree Farmer George Freeman.

There are seven project sites distributed across Pennsylvania and each demonstrates six different timber harvesting treatments, including no cutting. The five, two-acre cutting treatments include a diameter-based thinning removing the smallest trees, a diameter-limit cut removing only the largest trees ("high-grading"), a thinning of trees evenly distributed above and below the mean tree diameter (replaced by a shelterwood on three sites), an improvement thinning (using SILVAH prescriptions (Marquis & Ernst, 1992)), and a clearcut.

Evaluation Methods

Participants in five Forest Stewardship workshops and meetings during the summer and fall of 1994 served as the sample for this study. Two of the demonstration sites, located in Huntingdon and Clarion Counties, were used in this evaluation. Foresters, landowners, timber harvesters, tree farmers, timber buyers and others constituted each of the audiences. The program had two parts: a scripted slide show and a tour of the field demonstration. The slide show presented objective information about forest history, ecology, silvicultural methods, and threats to the sustainability of Pennsylvania's forests. Participants viewed slides of each of the cutting alternatives. A walking tour of the field demonstrations followed, during which the purpose of each cutting alternative was discussed as were the benefits and consequences of each.

Each workshop audience was randomly divided into three experimental groups. Group assignment merely dictated when participants would answer a questionnaire. One group completed the questionnaire upon arrival (control group), the second following the scripted slide show (slides only group), and a third at the end of the demonstration tour (slides/field tour group). All groups viewed the slide show and participated in the walking tour at the same time. The questionnaire, which was standard for all groups, contained a series of objective questions about forests and forest management, and a subjective section asking the degree to which respondents agreed with statements concerning forest management practices. Additionally, we asked respondents for demographic and land ownership information. The attitude/belief subjective questions came from a previous survey and had already been shown to be both reliable and valid measures (Luloff et al., 1993). Objective multiple choice questions came from an established instrument that is used in logger educational programs (L.E.A.P.).

We expected that objective test scores would increase once respondents had seen the slide show, but we wanted to know if illustrating concepts using a field demonstration would improve them further. We were also interested in what impact the slides and/or field tour would have on respondents' beliefs about timber harvesting and clearcutting. We focused on clearcutting because this treatment is generally met with more public opposition than are the intermediate treatments in the demonstration.

Results & Discussion

The total number of people in the study sample was 197. Only about one-fourth of the respondents were women (28%). Respondents were aged 9 to 80 years, and were distributed across a range of levels of education, annual household income, and occupation categories (white collar, blue collar, student, retired and other). Sixteen percent of respondents' occupations were classified as "forest resource dependent" (i.e. foresters, timber harvesters, woodworkers etc.).

More than half (57%) of the respondents answered that they had previously attended at least one workshop on forest management. Seventy-two percent were landowners, and about one- third (36%) of all the landowners, claimed to have a written forest management plan. These participants were interested enough in forest management to willingly attend forest stewardship workshops. Therefore, results can only be generalized to individuals with this degree of motivation.

From the questionnaire, we derived for each respondent an objective test score (the number of multiple choice questions answered correctly) and two subjective scores: a score for clearcut acceptance, and a score for timber harvesting acceptance.

An analysis of variance indicated that objective test score was influenced by experimental group. The slides only group scored significantly higher than the control group and the slides/field tour group scored significantly higher than the slides only group (Table 1). Respondents' education level and attendance at previous workshops also influenced objective test score. Experimental group, however, had the most impact.

Table 1
Mean knowledge scores by experimental group*
Experimental Group n Mean (# correct responses) S.D.
Control 63 8.76 a 3.20
Slides Only77 10.38 b 3.33
Slides/Field Tour56 12.14 c 3.28
* mean scores not followed by the same letter are significantly different at the p < 0.05 level.

The significant increases in mean objective test score following the slide show and following the field tour indicate that both are valuable and effective teaching tools. However, participants appear to learn most when a traditional classroom experience (using slides) is followed by an experience in the field, where visitors witness concepts first-hand.

Experimental group did not have an impact on respondents' acceptance of timber harvesting. However, the group that completed the questionnaire after touring the demonstration area was more accepting of clearcutting than the other two groups (p<0.05).

Workshop participants who had the opportunity to see and walk through a clearcut first-hand, were less likely to feel that clearcutting should be banned, less likely to think replanting was necessary, and more likely to see clearcutting as an opportunity for new seedlings to grow. With respect to timber harvesting, being interested in forest management, participants were more accepting of timber harvesting when they came to the workshop, leaving less room for change.

Workshop participants who are more knowledgeable of basic forest ecology and silviculture concepts are more accepting of clearcutting and of using timber harvesting as a forest management tool. There are a few examples in the literature of studies that link forestry knowledge with attitudes toward timber harvesting and clearcutting (Willhite, Bowles & Talbet, 1973; Becker 1983). Findings from this study are consistent with these and another previous study (Brunson and Reiter, 1996) in which attitudes about timber harvesting were modified when information was provided.


Knowledge gain is often the goal of environmental, natural resource, agricultural and extension education programs. This study is not unique in finding significant gains in knowledge as the result of an educational experience. On the other hand, attitude change is not typically detected as the result of an educational program. However, in this study, one specific attitude change was detected, that is respondents became more accepting of the practice of clearcutting. Many who had been opposed to clearcutting also had misconceptions about clearcutting, for example, "a clearcut removes all vegetation from the site," and confusion about forest regeneration and growth.

We believe that landowners in particular will benefit from exposure to timber harvesting alternatives, as they have the opportunity to make these kinds of decisions about their own holdings. However, there is something for foresters and timber harvesters to gain as well, and the general public should be included not only because they are potential landowners, but because the public is becoming increasingly involved directly in decisions concerning the management of public lands, and in influencing decisions on private lands.

Natural resource conflicts among resource managers, timber harvesters, landowners and the general public are difficult to resolve because of the drastically varied perspectives involved. We are suggesting that education via demonstration area tours may play a significant role in reducing natural resource conflicts, not simply because forest management knowledge is positively related to acceptance of forest management practices, but because making visitors more familiar with forest ecology and management via demonstration provides an opportunity for discussion among groups with conflicting views.

Although not part of the experimental design, audiences represented a full range of stakeholders in sustaining Pennsylvania's forests. Audiences included foresters, landowners, timber harvesters, loggers, and of course citizen consumers. Questions came from the audience throughout the demonstration tour, and often they were in turn answered by other participants. In this way, the leader of the workshop served not as the "expert," but simply as a facilitator of constructive exchange among program participants. The demonstration areas will not solve public conflict by themselves, but they provide illustrations of concepts and issues to discuss. The relaxed nature of the outdoor tour provides an atmosphere conducive to finding common ground, and therefore an opportunity to engage participants in a truly unique learning experience.


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