October 2007 // Volume 45 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB4

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How Do Forest Landowners Desire to Learn About Forest Certification?

A mail survey to identify preferred methods of learning about forest certification was sent to nonindustrial private forest owners in western Tennessee who own 40 or more acres of forest land. New forest landowners, those who are well educated, and those who have received information or advice about forest management in the past showed an interest in learning about certification. A clear picture emerged of how these two groups desired to be educated about certification via both active and passive education methods.

David C. Mercker
Extension Forester
Jackson, Tennessee

Donald G. Hodges
Professor Forest Economics
Knoxville, Tennessee

The University of Tennessee


Forest certification is a relatively new development. Unlike certification in other industrial sectors, forest certification deals not with the final product, but with the practice of forestry, its growth, harvesting, and ecological impact after the trees have been removed from the site (Klingberg, 2003). Forest certification is gradually gaining widespread attention by a variety of stakeholders, including environmentalists, policy makers, professional foresters, social activists, loggers, and the public (Viana, Jamison, Donovan, Elliot, & Gholz, 1996; Mater, 1999).

The situation for forest certification in the United States is somewhat unique when compared to the global picture, in that such a large percentage of the total forest area in the U.S. is under nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) ownership. In 2003, more than 10.3 million NIPF landowners in the U. S. controlled 42% of the nation's forest land. The largest portion of the nation's total forest land is located east of the Mississippi River, where 88% of all NIPF owners are located (Butler & Leatherberry, 2004).

Even more significant is the strong regional identity of the 13 southeastern states. NIPF landowners in this region number 5 million and control 89% of the forest area (Wear & Greis, 2002). Further, nearly 60% of the nation's timber production is produced by these 13 states, with a striking 18% of the world's industrial timber products originating from the region (Prestemon & Abt, 2002). Wood production in the southeast is expected to increase by over 50% between 1995 and 2040, or an average of 1.6% per year (Prestemon & Abt, 2002; Wear & Greis, 2002).

The timber resources of the southeastern region of the U. S. are essential to both regional and global economies. This region will retain the distinction as the single largest producer of timber products in the world (Prestemon & Abt, 2002). Uniquely, these lands are principally owned, controlled, managed, purchased, and sold by NIPF landowners.

Some stakeholders are beginning to debate the necessity of implementing forest certification on NIPFs. This ownership group is particularly important in Tennessee, where it comprises 79% of the state's 14.4 million acres (5.8 million hectares). Moreover, these forests contribute more than 84% of the state's annual hardwood removal volume (Schweitzer, 2000). NIPFs are also vital for the protection of the state's soil, water, and wildlife resources, and for the production of non-timber goods and services.

Having a good knowledge of certification is a precondition for NIPF landowner participation in it. Without sufficient knowledge of certification, landowner involvement is not likely, no matter how good the certification system. Dissemination of the information via various education methods is essential (Lindström, Hansen, & Juslin, 1999).

If NIPF landowners are to be included in certification, a better understanding is needed of how this ownership category desires to be educated. Considerable variation exists in NIPF landowner's preferences on educational methods. Pennsylvania forest landowners prefer active educational delivery methods over passive, including workshops and demonstrations rather than Web sites, videos, and correspondence courses (Downing & Finley, 2005). If delineated by demographic sectors, would the results differ?

In contrast, South Carolina's private longleaf pine landowners ranked the more passive newsletters and publications over field tours and workshops when stating their preference for educational delivery methods about longleaf pine (Radhakrishna, Nelson, Franklin, & Kessler, 2003). Only 18.7% of Michigan farmers prefer computer or internet courses such as software packages, e-mail, and the World Wide Web to learn more about watershed conservation, and those most interested in this method are younger, are more educated, and have high gross annual income (Howell & Habron, 2004).

For educators to best target efforts to inform landowners about forest certification, the methods landowners prefer to be educated, as well as who among them will consider certification, must be understood. Therefore the goals of the study reported here were to:

  1. Establish baseline sociodemographic data for the NIPF landowners in the study area;

  2. Determine forest landowners' preferences for certification education methods (as an entire population);

  3. Determine the desired methods of education among only those landowners most willing to consider certifying their forest land; and

  4. Narrow the educational focus to those landowners with characteristics that can be captured.

Study Area

The project represents a regional study in western Tennessee and includes 9 counties within the 18-county Forest Inventory and Analysis West Tennessee Region. The nine counties were selected because they represent 70% of the total forest area in the region (Schweitzer, 2000). Three counties were randomly selected from the list of nine for survey purposes. The three counties include 564,300 acres of forest land for an average percent forest cover of 47.8 per county.


Mail surveys were used for data collection to allow coverage of a large geographical area in a cost-effective manner. The database of landowners was obtained from the Tennessee State Division of Property Assessment. Only landowners controlling 40 acres or more of forest land were targeted for the study. A draft version of the questionnaire was developed and pre-tested. Refinements were made based on feedback received.

In August 2004, 1,153 landowners were sent a postcard notifying them of the project and the intent of the research. The questionnaire was mailed 2 weeks later. 1Landowners were assured that the information would be kept strictly confidential. A reminder postcard was mailed, followed by a second questionnaire to the non-respondents, then another reminder postcard. The Dillman Tailored Design method was followed as closely as possible (Dillman, 2000). The respondents were given the opportunity to receive a summary of the results for participating in the study. One hundred and three of the questionnaires were determined ineligible and were removed from the list, bringing the eligible target population to 1,050. The final number of usable returned questionnaires was 532, with a total response rate of 50.7%.

After reading a definition of forest certification, participants were asked a binary (yes/no) question of their willingness to consider certification. This became the prominent dependent variable from which the educational variables were examined. Chi-square tests were used to examine relationships between variables when the data were ordinal scale, and Spearman's correlation when data were interval. Results were reported as statistically significant when P ≤ .05.



The average forest ownership size was 217 acres (Table 1), and the median was 122 acres. Most landowners purchased their land, have owned it 21 years, and intended to retain it for more than 15 years. In general, most landowners indicated that they own their land so that it can be passed on to their children or heirs, to enjoy the scenery, to supply food and habitat for wildlife, and as a long-term investment (Table 2). Seven out of 10 landowners have harvested trees from their land, and of those, one-third used a professional forester.

Table 1.
Summary of Sociodemographic Characteristics

CharacteristicMean (Φ)Standard Deviation (σ)Rangen
Forest acreage216.56250.340 - 1,643498
Tenure of ownership (years)21.014.41 - 75465
Age of owner (years)61.413.025 - 92466
Sampled landowners in three west Tennessee counties.

Table 2.
Most Important Reasons for Owning Forest Land

Reason for OwnershipMean (Φ)Standard Deviation (σ)n
Pass on to children or other heirs4.081.15472
To enjoy scenery4.061.09449
To supply food and habitat for wildlife4.001.07462
Long-term financial investment3.941.11462
For hunting and fishing3.841.28451
For timber production3.751.19454
For privacy3.581.37434
As part of my family heritage3.561.42427
To have trees around home3.051.47390
For recreation other than hunting and fishing3.041.34419
To learn from nature2.981.28429
Because land can't be farmed2.551.36384
For grazing livestock2.011.24369
To collect firewood1.700.99401
Sampled landowners in three west Tennessee counties.
5 - Point Scale
1 = Not important; 5 = Very important

The owners, on the average, were 61 years of age, with 70% being 50 years or older. Most had at least some post high school education, with one-third being college graduates. Over 40% of the owners were retired, with an additional 43% either professional or owning a business/farm. Less than one in 10 were employed as a craftsman or blue collar worker. Younger landowners had higher education and desired to stay up-to-date with new forestry practices and programs.

Landowners were asked to read the following definition of forest certification and answer the questions that followed:

Forest certification means that forests are managed in a sustainable manner and that trees are harvested with environmentally sound practices. These management practices are certified by objective third parties. Landowner participation is voluntary.

Most landowners were not familiar with forest certification, but when presented with this definition, 81% indicated that they were willing to consider it.

Preferred Methods of Landowner Education

Using a scale (1= not useful and 5 = very useful), participants indicated the usefulness of 10 different methods of learning about forest certification. This question was directed to all participants, even those not willing to consider certification. Based on mean score, the top two preferences were talking with a professional forester and publications/books/pamphlets. The two least preferred were video conference and evening workshop (Table 3).

Table 3.
Preferred Methods of Learning About Certification Among All Participants

Method of EducationMean Score (μ)Standard Deviation (σ)n
Active methods
Talk with a forester or professional3.891.28413
Talk with other woodland owners3.411.31389
On-site forestry field day3.351.45393
Evening workshop3.001.47380
Video conference2.391.40365
Passive methods
Publications, books, pamphlets3.821.32408
Newsletters, magazines, or newspapers3.761.29403
Video tapes for home viewing3.551.41393
Television or radio programs3.141.44382
Web site that explains the process3.161.60380
Sampled landowners in three west Tennessee counties.
5 - Point Scale
1 = Not useful; 5 = Very useful

The results broadened when the 10 different methods of learning about certification were analyzed against only those landowners who would consider certification (Table 4). Landowners willing to consider certification indicated that all methods of education would be useful (P<0.0001).

Table 4.
Significant Relationships Between Preferred Methods of Learning About Certification and Landowners Who Are Willing to Consider It

Method of EducationChi-Square P Valuen
Active methods   
Talk with a forester or professional113.61<0.0001408
Talk with other woodland owners72.44<0.0001389
On-site forestry field day61.07<0.0001388
Evening workshop66.17<0.0001376
Video conference45.52<0.0001360
Passive methods   
Publications, books, pamphlets114.68<0.0001403
Newsletters, magazines, or newspapers86.18<0.0001397
Video tapes for home viewing84.68<0.0001387
Television or radio programs44.19<0.0001377
Web site that explains the process44.67<0.0001376
Sampled landowners in three west Tennessee counties.

Narrowing the Educational Focus

Five sociodemographic variables were identified as being significantly related to landowner's willingness to consider certification. These included landowners who: (1) were well educated (Χ2=25.95, P<.0001), 2) were new at land ownership (Χ2= 74.74, P=0.0478), 3) were professionals (Χ2=22.14; P=0.0047), 4) have received forestry advice or information (Χ2=14.34, P=0.0002), 5) desired to stay up to date with new forestry practices and programs (Χ2=36.61, P<.0001).

Of these five variables, two can be more easily captured, then targeted, for educational programs. They include new owners (lists available from tax assessor office), and those who have received forestry advice and information (lists available from state, consulting, and industrial foresters). An analysis of the 10 preferred educational methods with these two sociodemographic variables indicated that landowners who had received advice or information about their forest would accept all methods of education. New owners, however, were more selective in their educational preference. They chose the active methods of talking with a forester or professional, talking with other woodland owners, and visiting an on-site forestry field day, and the passive methods of viewing a video at home, and visiting a Web site (Table 5).

Table 5.
Summary of Significant Relationships Between Methods of Learning About Forest Certification and Select Sociodemographic Variables

Method of Learning About CertificationTenure of OwnershipOwners Who Have Received Advice or Information
 Spearman RP ValueΧ 2P Value
Publications, books, or pamphlets-0.01380.786718.58<.0001
Newsletters, magazines, or newspapers-0.01040.838016.21<.0001
Visit a Web site for explanation*-0.2109<.000112.65<.0001
Participate in a video conference-0.05220.331814.19<.0001
Attend an evening workshop-0.08890.091112.89<.0001
Attend an on-site forestry field day*-0.11010.033110.39<.0001
Video tapes for home viewing*-0.10590.040912.46<.0001
Television or radio programs0.00770.884010.83<.0001
Talk with a forester or professional*-0.10070.045826.49<.0001
Talk with other woodland owners*-0.12990.012527.44<.0001
* Indicates significant relationship for both variables.
Sampled landowners in three west Tennessee counties.

Conclusion and Implication

Not all NIPF landowners will certify their forest land, but a facet (81%) indicated they would at least consider it. Educational focus should be with those landowners having the characteristics most favorable toward considering certification. Five sociodemographic variables were identified as significantly related to landowner's willingness to certify, including landowners who: 1) were well educated, 2) were new at land ownership, 3) were professionals, 4) have received forestry advice or information, and 5) desired to stay up to date with new forestry practices and programs.

Two of these variables can be isolated and should become the focus for NIPF education efforts about certification. The first variable includes new landowners. Landowner names in this group can be obtained through tax assessor records. The second variable includes landowners who have received forestry advice or information about forestry. The contact information for many of these landowners should be available through the records of state employed and consulting foresters.

A clear picture emerged of how these two groups desired to be educated about certification. These landowners preferred the passive methods of visiting a Web site and viewing a video tape at home, and the active methods of attending an on-site forestry field day, talking with a forester, and talking with other woodland owners.

For passive methods, forest certification can be explained via digital video. By visiting certified state forests and select NIPF lands, certification concepts can be video taped then streamlined into a Web site or reproduced for home videos or DVDs. Each educational method could explain certification principles plus include action steps on how landowners can become certified.

Active methods of certification education require that landowners not only hear the message but participate in observing it. Because landowners indicated a preference for learning about certification from professional foresters and other landowners, these two groups should be educated about certification via a train-the-trainer approach. The State Division of Forestry and consulting foresters were the two objective third parties most preferred as potential third party forest certifiers. Extension should develop educational programs for these foresters as well as for select, highly motivated landowners, to train and equip them on the purpose and process of certifying NIPF landowners. Such individuals regularly have direct contact with NIPF landowners and can explain and demonstrate forest certification concepts.

The other active method of education included on-site forestry field days. Partnerships between county forestry associations, the State Division of Forestry, Extension, and consulting foresters can develop forestry field days that give NIPF landowners hands-on view of certification. State forest sites should be used because they provide an excellent, standard-setting example.

Subsequent research to analyze successful enrollment into certification based on the five forms of active and passive educational methods is needed. This would allow for streamlined duplication on a regional and perhaps national scale.


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