Open Journal of Forestry
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 150-158
Published Online July 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/ojf) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojf.2012.23018
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Peer Influence of Non-Industrial Private Forest Owners in the
Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Jillian R. Schubert1, Audrey L. Mayer1,2
1Department of Social Sciences, Michigan Tech nol ogi cal University, Houghton, USA
2School of Forest Resources and E nv ironmental Science, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, USA
Received March 8th, 2012; re vis ed April 10th, 2012; accepted May 8th, 2012
Understanding how non-industrial private forest (NIPF) owners gain and share information regarding the
management of their property is very important to policy makers, yet our knowledge regarding how and
to what degree this information flows over privately owned landscapes is limited. The work described
here seeks to address this shortfall. Widely administered surveys with close-ended questions may not
adequately capture this information flow within NIPF owner communities. This study used open-ended
questions in interviews of clusters of NIPF owners to determine whether and to what extent owners in-
fluence each other directly (through conversations or referrals to sources of advice) or indirectly (through
observation of management). We obtained data from thirty-four telephone interviews with owners of
NIPF properties in the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and analyzed the data using open coding.
Roughly half of the forest owners we interviewed were influenced either directly or indirectly by other
members of their NIPF communities. Reasons for owning forests (such as privacy, hunting and nature
recreation, and economics) also influenced owners’ management behaviors and goals. This peer-to-peer
flow of information (whether direct or indirect) has significant implications for how to distribute man-
agement and programmatic information throughout NIPF owner communities, and how amenable these
communities may be to cooperative or cross-boundary programs to achieve ecosystem and landscape-
Keywords: Communication; Information; Management; Landowners; Opinion Leader; Policy
More than half of the 751 million acres of forest in the
United States is privately owned, 35% by non-industrial private
owners (Butler et al., 2005; Butler, 2008). Non-industrial pri-
vate forest (NIPF) refers to forest owned by private entities,
such as individuals and families, that do not fall under the
category of vertically integrated timber companies (Best &
Wayburn, 2001; Butler, 2008). These owners are also referred
to as “small-scale forest owners” or “family forest owners” in
the more positive sense (as the term defines what they are,
rather than what they are not; Fischer et al., 2010). These own-
ers comprise 92% of all private forest owners and own 62% of
private forest in the United States (Butler, 2008). In the aggre-
gate, activities undertaken by forest owners have the potential
to drastically impact the forested landscapes of the United
States, along with its associated biodiversity and ecological
services (Erickson et al., 2002; Zhang et al., 2005; Gustafson &
Loehle, 2008; Ma et al., 2011).
The need for more information before engaging in manage-
ment activities for ecosystem-scale benefits, and/or entering
into programs, is a recurrent theme in many studies of private
forest owners (Finley et al., 2006). Regardless of whether more
information is needed on ecosystem management (Jacobson,
2002), collaborative management across boundaries (Finley et
al., 2006), the effects of management programs (Vokoun et al.,
2010), or whether that information comes from professionals
(Creighton et al., 2002) or peers (Knoot & Rickenbach, 2011;
Ma et al., 2011), there seem to be few owners in these commu-
nities who are not interested in more information (Finley et al.,
2006). Different forest owners may require different kinds of
information (Finley et al., 2006; Gootee et al., 2010), conveyed
in different formats (Hujala et al., 2009), from different kinds
and numbers of sources (West et al., 1988; Lönnstedt, 1997),
depending upon owner characteristics such as age, education,
absenteeism, land tenure, and values. Large surveys such as the
National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS; Butler et al., 2005),
and smaller efforts (e.g., West et al., 1988) have indicated that
NIPF owners may get at least as much information and advice
on management and voluntary program enrollment from
neighbors, friends, and other NIPF-owning peers, as from pro-
fessional foresters at public agencies and pr i v a t e i n d u s t ry.
However, more attention has been placed on the relative
weight these information sources are given by NIPF owners,
than how this advice is used and spread to other NIPF owners
(e.g., Ma et al., 2011). According to the NWOS, the preferred
sources of management advice for NIPF owners are natural
resources professionals (Butler et al., 2005). Although NIPF
owners may claim to want and take advice from natural re-
sources professionals more frequently (although see Ma et al.,
2011), they influence and are influenced by the landowners
around them. However, previous research has shown that ad-
vice from friends and family may be applied more often than
advice from natural resources professionals, and that landown-
ers may trust information from other landowners rather than
experts (West et al., 1988; Ma et al., 2011). Rickenbach et al.
J. R. SCHUBERT, A. L. MAYER
(2005) found that NIPF owners may make management deci-
sions based on their opinions of neighbors’ management out-
comes without actually asking neighbors about their manage-
ment. No study has yet made a distinction between direct in-
formation (given verbally or in writing from one person to an-
other) and indirect information, which can be gathered through
observing the efforts and effects of forest management on other
There is a variety of state and Federal programs in place to
encourage management, discourage forest conversion, and pro-
vide tax incentives to NIPF owners, and enrollment in these
programs is mostly voluntary. Although voluntary programs
may seem to avoid many of the legal entanglements that plague
regulation or mandatory programs, the voluntary nature of the
program requires a greater burden on both the landowner and
the administrative organization, in terms of time, financial re-
sources, education and knowledge of the problem; common
enrollment obstacles for many voluntary programs (Lieberherr,
2011). Most of these programs contain an education component
about land management and management programs for poten-
tial and existing participants (Greene et al., 2005; Ma et al.,
2011). Generally, many NIPF owners are unaware of these
kinds of programs and their potential benefits, leading to poor
participation (Nagubadi et al., 1996; Greene et al., 2004; Kil-
gore et al., 2007). For example, in Michigan, the Commercial
Forest program requires the landowner to take the initiative to
obtain a management plan and enroll their forested property in
the program (eligible property must be at least 40 contiguous
acres); less than 0.3% of the 498,000 owners are enrolled in the
program (Butler, 2008; MI DNR, 2011). Fortney et al. (2011)
found that the majority of non-participants in West Virginia’s
Managed Timberland program, a tax incentive program with
the goal of retaining private forest land, did not know about the
program and many would have participated had they been
aware of it. Those landowners that did participate in the pro-
gram became aware of it primarily from foresters. Rossi et al.
(2010) found that foresters were the most important source of
information about a Southern Pine Beetle prevention cost-share
program in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and
Virginia, and foresters needed to be more active about recruit-
ing landowners to increase participation. If forest owners do not
view DNR foresters as valuable sources of advice, their know-
ledge of these NIPF-targeted programs is likely to remain low,
unless there are other information sources that they use more
Here we present research on NIPF owners of the Western
Upper Peninsula of Michigan and how they communicate about
forest management and programs with neighboring NIPF own-
ers. We collected data from 34 telephone interviews with NIPF
owners; we believe the use of open-ended interview data, in-
stead of the more commonly used mail surveys, provided new
insight. The goal of this research was to understand the way
information moves through NIPF owner-dominated landscapes,
and to provide recommendations to policy implementers on
how to best reach these owners with information. Knowledge
about how information flows among private landowners is an
emerging critical need, as the diversity and functioning forested
landscapes in many parts of the world are impacted by the col-
lective decision-making of thousands of private forest owners
(Erickson et al., 2002; Fischer et al., 2010; Knoot & Ricken-
Our study area was the Western Upper Peninsula of Michi-
gan, encompassing eight counties: Baraga, Dickinson, Gogebic,
Houghton, Iron, Keweenaw, Marquette, and Ontonagon. There
are approximately 30,000 NIPF owners in this area (B. Butler,
pers. communication), with the potential for a substantial in-
crease in number due to industrial timberland divestiture and
subsequent parcelization (Froese et al., 2007). While the eco-
nomic importance of the timber industry has declined in the
past several decades (Froese et al., 2007), ecosystem-based
tourism (e.g., hunting, fishing, recreation) remains an important
sector of the regional economy (Nelson, 2001). This sector is
directly impa c ted by forest management at the landscape scale.
We compared digitized parcel maps to classified LANDSAT
imagery to identify forested areas with clusters of NIPF owners.
These parcel maps (obtained from Rockford Map Publishers,
Rockford IL) included the names of owners, which we then
used in searches of online and paper directories to find contact
information. All interviewees were guaranteed that their identi-
fying information would be kept in confidence. As with Gootee
et al. (2010), we found that interviewees were not comfortable
having their interview recorded (given the subject matter of
their interactions with neighboring forest owners), and so we
took detailed notes (confirming our notes during the interview
if there were difficulties or discrepancies with the notes) and
the notes were converted into a nearly-complete interview ses-
sion immediately after each interview. All interviews were
assigned a number, so that owner names were not linked to
interviews; interviewee numbers are referenced in the Results
In the preliminary round of interviews conducted in summer
2010, we chose two landowners per community at random. We
considered a community to be a cluster of NIPF properties that
were typically surrounded by other land uses, such as farms or
publicly owned forests. We contacted one of these potential
interviewees and asked them to participate; if they declined or
could not be reached, we called the second landowner. We used
a snowballing method with successful contacts to find other
potential interviewees within the community who may not have
been listed in directories, and it gave us some indication of the
social network of these landowners. Snowballing is the process
of asking interviewees to recommend others to potentially be
interviewed (Patton, 1992). In previous research, snowballing
has been used to obtain interviews when there is no list of po-
tential interviewees available (Gan et al., 2003). Snowballing
has also been used to gain new or differing ideas and opinions
(Rickenbach & Reed, 2002). Ultimately this method was un-
successful; only four interviewees recommended neighbors and
only one that was recommended agreed to participate. To as-
sure a sufficient sample size, we did use this method to some
extent for the second round of interviewing. For subsequent
interviews, we contacted all individuals with listed phone
numbers in the chosen communities, but still asked to recom-
mend neighboring landowners for interviews.
The interviews were semi-structured with a mix of open and
close-ended questions. The preliminary interviews had more
close-ended questions, while the second round of interviews
consisted of mostly open-ended forms of the same questions
(see Appendix). We made these adjustments to better reflect the
kinds of data we had received in the first interviews. We ana-
lyzed the data collected from the interviews using two types of
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 151
J. R. SCHUBERT, A. L. MAYER
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
coding. First, we coded the interviews using predetermined
codes. This served to index the data and create categories (Bab-
bie, 2010). We also used an open-coding method. Open-coding
is accomplished by careful examination of the data for ideas
that were not originally considered (DeWalt & DeWalt, 2002).
We used Pearson’s chi-squared tests to determine whether the
characteristics of owners (such as resident versus absentee
owner) influenced their sources of management information.
However we also used qualitative methods to identify opinions
about information sources that may be influenced by attitudes
or other ownership aspects that cannot be quantified. Qualita-
tive approaches have become more common in studies of
landowner behavior and preferences (Fischer et al., 2010).
We conducted thirty-four interviews in total: twelve during
the preliminary round and twenty-two from the second round of
interviewing. An additional 65 landowners we tried to contact
either refused an interview (16), did not answer the phone (44),
or had a disconnected phone line (5). We had great difficulty to
generate a larger sample of interviews given the large number
of seasonal residences without listed landlines (or with land-
lines that remained unanswered), and an inability to determine
the owner of a particular property given numerous listings for
the same name (or first initial and last name), particularly
among the Finnish ancestry community.
Our set of interviewees was fairly typical in their distribution
of characteristics when compared to the averages found by the
NWOS. The mean age of the interviewees was 56.7 years with
an average of 3.8 years of post-high school education. This is
close to the mean age of NIPF owners in the western Upper
Peninsula, though the mean level of education was higher than
the general population in this area as reported by the NWOS (B.
Butler, pers. communication). Twenty-four of the interviewees
were absentee owners, and 26 of the interviewees were male.
Our interviewees owned an average of 245.5 acres for 21.7
years, which was also consistent with the NWOS data for the
western UP. Also consistent with NWOS averages, the new
owners we interviewed were less likely to live on their land
than the long-term owners, and owners with larger properties
were more likely to have a management plan than those with
smaller holdings. However, more of our interviewees had pur-
chased (28) (rather than inherited (6)) their forested properties
than the average population of owners in the area.
Quantitative Analysis of Information Sources
The majority of the results from the quantitative analysis
were not statistically significant (at p < 0.05); this was not un-
expected due to the small sample size. However, we did ob-
serve some significant correlations (Table 1). For continuous
data, such as tenure, we reclassified it into the categories of
short term (less than 10 years) and long term (10 years or more)
in order to perform Pearson’s Chi-Squared tests, The other data
used for the Pearson’s chi-squared tests were already categori-
cal; the categories included purchaser/inheritor and resident
owner/absentee owner. We also used regression analysis, so the
distance to NIPF property did not have to be categorized.
Residency on their forested property had little impact on peer
influence; similar proportions of both residents and non-resi-
dents influenced or were influenced by their neighbors. Land-
owners that resided on their property were more likely to rec-
ommend neighboring forest owners for interviews. However,
length of ownership (tenure) was negatively correlated with
taking management advice from neighbors or knowing neigh-
boring landowners’ management practices. Owners that had
recently acquired their properties were less likely to have in-
fluence on or be influenced by their neighbors than long-tenure
owners; 54% of interviewees that owned their property for ten
years or more had been influenced by or influenced neighbors,
while the same was true for only 38% of short-term owners.
Interviewees that purchased their property (as opposed to in-
heritors) were more likely to participate in programs for NIPF
owners and to know how their neighboring owners manage, but
were less likely to actively manage. Participation in NIPF pro-
grams with no active management often indicated goals related
to nature conservation.
Qualitati ve Review of Influ e nces on M anagement
Roughly half of the interviewees were influenced by their
NIPF owner neighbors, both directly (through conversations
about management or referrals to foresters or others sources of
advice), and indirectly (through observations of neighbors’
management). Of t he interviewees influenced by or influencing
neighboring landowners in some way, 32% were directly in-
fluenced, 38% were indirectly influenced, and 21% were influ-
enced in both ways by their neighbors. One extreme example of
a landowner having both types of influence was interviewee
#19. He spoke with neighboring landowners (who were also his
relatives) about his management, and they managed similarly
and used the same forester. He and his relatives also influenced
other NIPF owners directly by recommending the same forester
to another owner. This owner also engaged in some collabora-
tive management with neighboring NIPF owners. Interviewee
#19 and his relatives were influenced indirectly by other NIPF
Summary of significant results and their relationships.
Characteristic 1 Characteristic 2 Statistical Relationship
Management Advice Negative (p = 0.02)
Tenure Neighbor Management K nown Negative (p < 0.001)
Size of Forested Property Management Plan Positive (p = 0.023)
Resident Owner (not absentee) Neighbor Recommendation for Interview Positive (p = 0.002)
Neighbor Management K nown Positive ( p = 0.018)
Active Management Negative (p < 0.001)
Purchaser ( not inheritor)
Program Enro ll ment Positive (p < 0.001)
J. R. SCHUBERT, A. L. MAYER
owners as well; he and his relatives only harvested during the
winter after observing the damage to soils from summer har-
vests on a neighboring property.
Indirect influence from neighboring owners can discourage
people entirely from managing. Interviewee #6 said that she
would not log her land because of the result of logging on her
neighbor’s property. She said, “They made a mess of their
properties. They just had them logged and destroyed a lot of
trees. They were going after big ones and left others lying down
and drove over them with bulldozers. It looks horrible, at least
we think so”.
Interviewees were not always aware of their influence on
other NIPF owners, and sometimes had complex information
dynamics with their neighbors. For example, interviewee #11
was a forester whose neighbors came to him for advice; how-
ever, he was unsure whether they acted on his advice. He said
of his influence on his neighbors, “They’re only interested in if
theirs can be cut and how much money can be made. I men-
tioned what I’d like to do (on my property) because I under-
planted white pine. They think I’m nuts and it’s a waste of time
and money”. He also decided to use particular logging compa-
nies on his property based on the quality of the work they had
performed on a neighbor’s property (in his own opinion). This
is an example of a landowner who may directly influence the
management on his neighbors’ properties, and is indirectly
influenced by their management decisions. However, in com-
parison to their neighbors, foresters probably have far more
knowledge about the variety of management techniques and
goals that are possible, and so they are likely to be more trusted
or sought out as sources of information than other neighbors
without similar experience.
Values That May Affect Peer Influence and
We identified several themes that emerged as influences on
NIPF owners’ management from the open-coding of responses.
These issues have some bearing on the spread of information
through these NIPF communities and participation in NIPF-
targeted programs. Here, NIPF programs are those that are
specifically targeted to private landowners who do not own a
mill or other industrial facility, and are not incorporated as a
profit-oriented organization; some of these programs may cap
the total amount of land that can be enrolled by a landowner.
These programs are almost always voluntary, and can include
incentives such as free education, technical assistance from a
professional forester, cost-share for management activities or
tax abatements (Greene et al., 2005; Mayer & Tikka, 2006).
These themes have also been found in other studies of NIPF
owner communities in the United States.
Privacy: Many of the interviewees had purchased their prop-
erty as a residence, but they specifically purchased a rural, for-
ested parcel because they valued privacy . Creighton et al. (2002)
and Butler and Ma (2011) also found that aesthetics and privacy
are major drivers in the decision to purchase an NIPF property
in the region. For example, interviewee #12 said of purchasing
her property, “We really like the natural beauty. In Baraga
(where it’s at), it’s unspoiled by buildings and houses. We like
the fact that it’s remote”. For example, interviewee #5 implied
that the value he placed on privacy impacted his management.
He also stated that he would not manage in a way that impacted
his neighbors’ viewsheds. This concern for neighboring proper-
ties may not be rare; Vokoun et al. (2010) found that nearly
41% of NIPF owners in Virginia considered how management
of their land might affect the qualities of their neighbors’ prop-
erties. Privacy concerns also influenced participation in NIPF
programs; a majority of the first round of interviewees men-
tioned loss of privacy as a concern with participation. We spe-
cifically asked the second round of interviewees what they saw
as benefits and downfalls to these NIPF programs. Five of the
twenty-two responded that a perceived loss of privacy (through
forfeiture of property rights or control over property) was a
barrier to participation (several mentioned Michigan’s Com-
mercial Forest program specifically).
Value of Nature: Many of the interviewees expressed that
their desire to own NIPF stemmed from the way they viewed
nature. Interviewee #7 communicated the value he placed on
nature as well as his desire for privacy when asked how many
neighboring landowners he knew. He said, “At home, we know
all of them unfortunately. It’s not wild enough for me.” When
asked about his management of his second property, he said,
“We like the property the way it is. There are wildlife like you
wouldn’t believe. Everything available are on there. I wish it
was never logged”. Interviewee #5 stated that he and his wife
purchased their property as a “private nature sanctuary”. The
interviewees’ understanding of nature also impacted their opin-
ions regarding land management. Interviewee #4 said that there
is no reason to manage and the only reason people manage is
for money. The opposite viewpoint was also expressed; some
of the interviewees believed that forests required management
to be healthy. Interviewee #3 said that he harvested his property
because he didn’t want the mature trees to go to waste, where
“waste” was intended as a loss to nature, rather than an eco-
Recreation and Wildlife: More than half the interviewees
(57%) stated that their purchase of NIPF property was driven
by recreational activities. Hunting was the most common rec-
reational use mentioned by interviewees, and some specifically
mentioned hunting for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virgin-
ianus). Butler and Ma (2011) found recreation to be one of the
most common reasons for owning forested property in the
northern US. New owners in particular have been found to
place more value on recreation than traditional owners (New-
man et al., 1996). While many interviewees that hunted on their
properties did not actively manage their NIPF, they had unique
relationships with their neighbors due to these hunting activities.
Interviewee #18 managed specifically for wildlife habitat and
was influenced by her neighbors. She said that she and her
neighbors “…don’t work together, though, except for deer. We
try to work together on the bucks we shoot”. While they were
not collaboratively managing in the traditional sense, they were
communicating and collectively altering their activities. Jacob-
son (2002) found that the most influential reason for coopera-
tion among NIPF owners was often for hunting and wildlife
management. Alternatively, one interviewee (#7) would not
enroll his land in the Commercial Forest program or allow pub-
lic hunting on his property because he believed that it would
lead to trespassing, although he did not have any conflict with
hunting per se.
Economics: Many purchased their property as an investment
and expected financial gain from timber harvests at some future
date. A few landowners mentioned that selling some or all of
their property was in their long term plans, but differed on
whether that plan influenced how they managed (or did not
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 153
J. R. SCHUBERT, A. L. MAYER
manage) the prope rty to enhance its valu e for future sale. Some
interviewees had specific management goals, but let financial
influences dictate their management practices. Interviewee #9,
for instance, prioritized hunting and wildlife habitat, however
he did harvest some high value tree species for timber. Inter-
viewee #21 followed a management plan, but let the timber
market overrule his plan. He said, “I left the hemlock because
there was no market for it, and for wildlife habitat”. Financial
concerns also prompted communication among neighboring
forest owners. The neighbors of interviewee #11 (a forester)
came to him for management advice; he believed that his
neighbors’ reason for seeking advice was to make money from
Program participation was also influenced by financial con-
cerns. The most commonly mentioned program benefits that
were perceived to be advantageous were tax incentives. When
asked if he had a management plan, interviewee #19 stated,
“Yes, it’s simple. You can’t apply to put your land in Commer-
cial Forest without a written plan”. When he was asked why he
enrolled in Commercial Forest, he stated that he did so for the
tax incentive. Several interviewees explicitly mentioned or
discussed NIPF programs, and most of these programs used tax
incentives or cost share to encourage participation. One inter-
viewee participated in the US Department of Agriculture’s
Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, another in Michigan’s
Forest Stewardship Program, and several others had at least
some land enrolled in the Commercial Forest program.
Mistrust of Government: The interviewees in this research
primarily referred to the Michigan Department of Natural Re-
sources (DNR) when expressing their distrust of government.
They viewed government involvement on their property as
limiting. For example, interviewee #11 explained that he did
not participate in any government-run assistance programs
because “I don’t want the government involved in telling me
what to do. [The government] places restrictions on [my land]”.
Interviewee #19 had stronger opinions about the DNR, ex-
pressing an opinion that their primary goal was to collect fees
from forest owners. Previous NIPF literature has identified a
mistrust of government programs and officials in general in
NIPF owner communities, even if specific individuals from
these agencies were trusted (West et al., 1988; Brook et al.,
2003; Shandas, 2007; Ma et al., 2011). Gootee et al. (2010)
found that NIPF owners were not necessary distrustful of ad-
vice and information from these professional sources, but rather
were put off by the one-directional, hierarchical manner in
which this advice was given to them. Owners’ efforts to obtain
information from neighbors, relatives, and other NIPF owners
were more reflective of the need for a two-way dialogue than
from any general mistrust of professionals.
Our study found that a considerable number of NIPF owners
may be influenced both indirectly and directly by their neigh-
bors regarding forest management approaches. The peer-to-peer
flow of information across the privately owned forested land-
scape can be inferred from previous research but was explicitly
examined here. According to the NWOS, more Michigan NIPF
owners get advice and management information from state and
federal agencies or private consultants than from other sources
(Butler et al., 2005). “Other forest owners” were the manage-
ment advice sources for approximately 18% of Michigan NIPF
owners surveyed, less than state (41%), but roughly equal to
federal (20%) and private (22%) foresters (Butler et al., 2005).
Likewise, using a survey West et al. (1988) found that NIPF
owners in northern Michigan were as likely to seek advice from
friends and neighbors (22.2%) as from state and federal (27.6%)
or private (24.2%) foresters. However, while West et al. (1988)
do not address whether information was received from multiple
sources, it is apparent from the NWOS results that owners are
receiving information from multiple sources simultaneously,
although it is not possible to discern from the aggregated results
which sources owners are more or less likely to use in combi-
nation. Our interviews suggest that peers, neighbors and family
members may provide more information than these surveys
indicate, at least among owners in the western Upper Peninsula.
The NIPF owners that were not influenced by or influencing
their neighbors’ management behaviors typically did not con-
duct active management on their NIPF property (although some
owners may be actively deciding not to manage; e.g., Inter-
viewee #4; Erickson et al., 2002). This result echoes the find-
ings of Finley et al. (2006), where NIPF owners who had no
interest in cooperating with neighboring landowners were far
less concerned about not knowing neighbors and more con-
cerned about privacy; privacy concerns could be interpreted as
not wanting to share information with neighbors or government
We found that interviewees did not immediately consider in-
direct information received from neighboring properties, opin-
ion leaders and social norms in NIPF communities when an-
swering direct questions about information sources, but re-
vealed considerable influence from these sources over the
course of the entire interview. An opinion leader is defined as a
person well respected by their community and often holding a
local leadership position; most importantly, they are thought of
as good land managers (Rogers & Schoemaker, 1971). Opinion
leaders are thought to be innovative and influential, which
could lead to many of their surrounding landowners adopting
the practices they advocate (Haymond, 1988; West et al., 1988).
Social norms are generally accepted practices and behaviors in
a community or culture that influence individual behaviors,
while social influence is when a majority pressures a minority
to conform to a certain behavior (Cialdini et al., 1998). These
leaders and norms contribute to the peer influence that has been
observed to have a greater effect on management than advice
and information from forestry professionals (West et al., 1988;
Ma et al., 2011). Mail surveys asking mostly close-ended ques-
tions, such as the NWOS (originally designed to reflect com-
mercial forestry goals), may miss these subtle influences that
are better illuminated by more open-ended, qualitative instru-
ments and analyses (Bliss & Martin, 1989; Lönnstedt, 1997;
Tikkanen et al., 2006; Hujala et al., 2009; Fischer et al., 2010;
Gootee et al., 2010).
That so many NIPF owners seek out the opinions of other
forest owners for management advice emphasizes Gootee et
al.’s (2010) and Ma et al.’s (2011) calls for programs that use
peer-to-peer learning to distribute information about manage-
ment and programs to the NIPF community. These programs
include the “Woods Forum” in Massachusetts, Oregon’s Master
Woodlands Manager Program, and Pennsylvania’s Volunteer
Initiative Program (Reed, 2001; Jacobson, 2002; Ma et al.,
2011). This two-way flow of information among peers, along
with the different forms of information flow (direct and indirect)
identified in this study, will have a considerable influence on
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
J. R. SCHUBERT, A. L. MAYER
the success of newer cross-boundary and cooperative programs
for managing for goals other than timber production in ecosys-
tems and landscapes (Creighton et al., 2002; Jacobson, 2002;
Fischer et al., 2010; Vokoun et al., 2010).
How might the large influx of urban, absentee owners into
forested landscapes integrate into these information flows? The
number of non-resident owners has increased significantly in
the Upper Peninsula; the number of owners living one hundred
miles or more from their timberland increased by 31% from
1981 to 1994, and about 35% considered their NIPF a secon-
dary residence by 2006 (Leatherberry et al., 1998; Potter-Witter,
2005; B. Butler, pers. comm.). This trend is dominated by ur-
ban landowners residing far from their forest, and is accelerated
by parcelization of large, industrial tracts which are purchased
by new owners. Parcelization, the subdivision of large tracts of
forest into multiple ownerships, can lead to habitat fragmenta-
tion when these parcels are managed differently (Mehmood &
Zhang, 2001). This in turn may have an effect on wildlife and
ecosystem services (Erickson et al., 2002); over half of the
listed threatened and endangered species in the United States
utilize private lands (Irland, 1994).
The results of our study suggest that we should not see a
dramatic difference in how absentee owners get their manage-
ment information, as we found no difference among resident
versus absentee owners regarding whether and how they were
influenced by neighbors (although we interviewed more absen-
tee than resident owners). However, we expect that new owners
are much less likely to be integrated into the NIPF owner
community than older owners, regardless of residency, simply
due to a lack of time to become acquainted with neighbors;
those we interviewed were far less likely to know their neigh-
bors or get management information from them. Alternatively,
Lönnstedt (1997) found that new owners were more often ad-
vised by neighbors or forest-owning family members than by
professionals. Therefore, general information campaigns in
NIPF communities may reach absentee owners as their owner-
ship tenure increases, but reaching new owners may require
The value the interviewees placed on nature and their under-
standing of nature was a major determinant in management.
Some interviewees purchased their land for residences, but still
logged because they felt that the forest “needed” to be managed.
Alternatively, some interviewees believed that the forest didn’t
need to be managed and would take care of itself. Information
regarding management programs may reach owners of both
opinions but may be much less effective for the latter case, re-
gardless of the information source. Other NIPF owners seemed
to manage solely for economic reasons despite their stated
goals or reason for obtaining an NIPF property. While they may
value other aspects of their NIPF properties or the opinions of
others, they either cannot or will not forego the economic bene-
fit of harvesting timber on their property. Finally, a mistrust of
government agencies reaffirmed the importance of privacy and
economics to NIPF owners. While some refrained from pro-
gram participation due to their aversion to government in-
volvement, others still participated in Commercial Forest for
the tax incentive. While mistrust may lead some to seek other
sources of advice or renounce government programs, it may not
be the most influential factor in NIPF decision making behind
economic and aesthetic priorities (Fischer et al., 2010).
Inherent bias in our sampling methodology must be kept in
mind when generalizing these results. One such bias is in phone
interviewing. Our sample was limited to not only those owners
with a telephone (Babbie, 2010), but those with a phone num-
ber listed in the local printed and online directories. Cellular
telephones are far less likely to be listed, but are far more
common as primary phone numbers among those 30 years old
and younger (US Census, 2009, Blumberg & Luke, 2010). The
average age of the interviewees in our sample was 56.7; there
were only two interviewees under the age of forty, and none
under age thirty. Although owners under 30 are quite rare
among NIPF owners in this area, their absence from our study
may be impacted by their predominant use of cellular phones
over landlines. We were also not able to contact some land-
owners who lived out of state, were not listed online, and were
not enrolled in Commercial Forests (which lists contact infor-
mation for all owners). These omissions could bias our results
since newer classes of NIPF owners tend to live further away
from their NIPF property, and are less likely to enroll immedi-
ately in voluntary programs (Jones et al., 1995). Finally, our
use of coded interviews did not allow us to conduct rigorous
statistical analyses of information flow among categories of
owners, give our small sample size. While our methodology
allowed us to gain details that we were unlikely to receive from
a quantitative survey (Bliss & Martin, 1989), these details must
be appreciated qualitatively.
The potential implications of this research on Michigan’s
forested landscape depend on the actions taken by policy mak-
ers and implementers to incorporate these and similar findings
into their practices. NIPF owners influence their neighbors’
management and are influenced by their neighbors both directly
and indirectly. As evidenced by the growing trend of peer-
to-peer forest owner education programs and research, man-
agement information can and does flow among owners across
privately-owned landscapes (Reed, 2001; Fischer et al., 2010;
Knoot & Rickenbach, 2011). While we did not collect informa-
tion on the differential influence of opinion leaders in our sam-
ple, some of our interviews suggested that experienced indi-
viduals such as foresters may be more likely to be sought out
for information. If information and advice about land manage-
ment and programs were targeted to a few landowners, such as
local foresters or opinion leaders in a community, the efficiency
of information efforts might be increased. Not only mi ght more
owners receive the information, but they may give it significant
weight in their future decision-making. Increasing participation
rates in these landowner assistance programs through more
efficient information campaigns may not only help reduce for-
est fragmentation (benefiting wildlife and ecosystem services),
but create more cohesive NIPF owner communities.
The most pote ntially influent ial result from thi s research was
the importance of government mistrust and its impact on man-
agement and programmatic information. As information about
management travels through NIPF owner communities, so too
can negative impressions or false information about govern-
ment advice and programs. Forest owners are influenced by
each other, both through direct communication and perceived
management results, and therefore it is essential for successful
program administration to improve the image of government
agencies and programs within the private forest owner commu-
nity. The most trusted sources of information among our inter-
viewees were local private foresters, who were also NIPF own-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 155
J. R. SCHUBERT, A. L. MAYER
ers and commonly community opinion leaders. Reaching out to
these individuals could improve enrollment in programs and
acceptance of advice from government organizations.
The information dynamics and management goals we found
in Michigan are broadly consistent with what has been ob-
served in other countries with high proportions of NIPF owners,
particularly in Europe. While information from professional
foresters was highly regarded among NIPF owners in Germany,
neighbors were viewed as an additional source of information
for about half of those surveyed (Bieling, 2004). In Finland, a
forest owner’s preferences for the source, mode or tone of the
information communication can vary depending upon owner
characteristics (such as age) or the relationship with the infor-
mation source (Hujala & Tikkanen, 2008; Hujala et al., 2009).
Owners in Sweden were less likely to trust government agen-
cies if the agency’s goal was to educate forest owners about the
preservation of biologically diverse forests on their property,
and the owners did not value that goal (Götmark, 2009). Many
of the points highlighted in our interviews, such as the differen-
tial trust of information based on its source, and the influence of
intangible values such as nature-based recreation and biodiver-
sity conservation on management decisions, have been found
among NIPF owners in many other countries (e.g., Tikkanen et
al., 2006). Applying innovative techniques such as cognitive
mapping and social network analysis at the scale of NIPF
communities may increase our understanding of how to com-
municate information regarding management practices and
programs to these dynamic and complex communities, and how
their collective decision-making might change our forested
landscapes (Tikkanen et al., 2006; Fischer et al., 2010; Knoot &
We would like to thank Brett J. Butler of the U.S.D.A. Forest
Service for supplying us with NWOS data specific to the west-
ern Upper Peninsula counties in Michigan. Jennifer Daryl Slack,
Carol MacLennan, and Kathleen Halvorsen provided invaluable
comments on JRS’s MS thesis from which this work was taken.
A portion of this work was funded by a McIntire-Stennis grant
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J. R. SCHUBERT, A. L. MAYER
Appendix: Interview Questions
1) How long have you owned your property? Do you own
more than one forested property?
2) How did you acquire your property? [Did you buy or in-
herit it?] Why did you purchase a forested property?
3) Do you live on your forest property for most of the year?
[Where do you live if not? How far is your home from your
4) Can you please describe your property? [how many acres,
how much forest, what kind of forest?]
5) Some people work with their land to achieve certain goals
that they manage for [such as timber improvement, wildlife
habitat]. What are your goals, if any? Do you actively work
with or manage your land? What do you do and why? Why or
6) Do you have a written management plan [a plan stating
what you want to do with your land and how you will achieve
it]? Why or why not? Can you describe your plan?
7) Is your forest enrolled in any programs [for example CFA,
conservation easements]? If so, which program? Why did you
choose to enroll? What do you see as the benefits or drawbacks
to these programs?
8) Do you know how your neighbors manage their land? Do
your neighbors manage their forest similar to the way you do?
If not, what is different about what they do to their land?
9) How many neighboring landowners do you know?
10) Do you talk to your neighbors about what you do with
your land? If so, what do you talk about? If not, why not?
11) Have you ever specifically done or avoided something
because of your neighbor’s success or failure with that method?
If so, what was it? Why did you do it?
12) Where do you get advice about managing your land? [for
example forester, DNR, other owners, internet] Why did you
choose that source? What kind of advice have you received?
13) Are there any neighbors that you think would be inter-
ested in being interviewed or that could give me valuable in-
formation? If so, could you please tell me their name and pos-
sible a way to contact them?
14) Could you please tell me your age and highest level of
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.