Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Natural Resources

Major Professor

David Ostermeier

Committee Members

Sherry Cable, Wayne Clatterbuck, Trena Paulus


Privately owned forestland accounts for the majority of forested land in the US and provides numerous ecological, economic and social benefits to its owners and society at large. However, numerous issues ranging from fragmentation and parcelization, to pressure from the forest products industry, to increasing land values for development and real estate interests threaten to “unravel” the forest landscape. Active management of forestland is seen as one way to combat such threats. Active management of private forestland has been linked to numerous factors such as private forest landowners’ (PFLs’) general education level and familiarity with forest management, their goals, interests, objectives, attitudes, values, beliefs, and socio-cultural identity and the size and tenure of their ownership, among others. However, despite numerous efforts to understand private forest landowners (PFLs) and their interests, goals and objectives in owning private forestland, and to educate them about, and provide assistance for, private forest management, most privately owned forestland is not managed and most landowners remain unaware of the assistance and information available to them. In addition, the primarily quantitative studies investigating how these factors relate to private forestland management have been criticized for producing diminishing returns and insufficiently updating survey instruments. Using a mixed methods study design, including both quantitative and qualitative approaches, this study, conducted in the Emory-Obed watershed of East Tennessee, examined how the meaning of PFLs’ experience of their forestland and their conceptualization of forest management, two variables previously unaddressed in the literature, relate to PFL management behavior.

Based on their experiences with their land, PFLs were found to form strong personal attachments to their land. Both the strength and the nature of these attachments varied relative to the degree to which PFLs actively engaged in forest management practices. The experience of those who actively engage in forest management activities is focused on the land and its condition, while the experience of those who do not actively engage in forest management activities is focused on themselves and how the experience makes them feel. Private forestland was also experienced as place. When these ways of experiencing forestland were quantified, a set of five components characteristic of the experience of forestland were identified: emotional connection to forestland, connection to nature via forestland, connection to family via forestland, forestland provision of PFL personal and financial gain, and forestland provision of financial investment. The more actively engaged with private forest land management PFLs were, the more strongly they agreed that each of these components was both meaningful and important to them.

Landowners also varied in the ways in which they understood the forest management concept. Landowners simultaneously conceptualized forest management as property maintenance, as creating and enhancing forest habitat and as making money. As with the meaning of PFLs experience of their forestland, the more actively engaged in forest management activities PFLs were, the more strongly they agreed each of these components defined forest management. Lastly, the vast majority of PFLs participating in this study stated they believe they manage their forestland. This is in stark contrast to conclusions reported in the literature concerning the percentage of PFLs actually managing their forestland and is attributed in part to lack of standardization in the operationalization of forest management participation measures reported in the literature. Several implications of the findings for professional forestry practice, research, outreach and education are made based on recognizing the importance of the meaning of landowners’ experience of their forestland and their conceptualization of forest management to their interest in and engagement in forest management activities. For example, as the findings indicate PFLs may not see a relationship between the ways their forestland is meaningful to them and their understanding of what it means to manage their forestland, forest landowner educational opportunities and events capitalizing on the strong personal attachments PFLs feel to their land and utilizing language similar to their own ways of speaking about these attachments such as, “Getting to Know Your Woods”, “The Woods in Your Backyard: What’s There and Why You Should Care” and “Having Your Cake and Eating It Too: Enjoying and Profiting From Your Forestland” may prove more effective than traditional programs.

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