Predicting pasture and forest landowner intention to create early successional habitat.
As human land uses expand across the landscape, the management practices of private landowners are an essential part of effective conservation. Early successional habitats (ESH) and the species that depend on them are a priority in the eastern United States, and efforts to create ESH on private lands has primarily focused on forest landowners and timber harvests. Private pasture lands in a forested landscape present an additional opportunity to create and maintain ESH, yet our understanding of landowner values and attitudes about management strategies in pastures is lacking. To address this, we surveyed private landowners in 5 Virginia counties who own ≥10.1 ha at >610 m elevation (n = 503). Our primary objective was to understand how a variety of factors such as landowner values, past experience with habitat management, and perceived barriers to carrying out habitat management are associated with private landowner intention to carry out 7 ESH management strategies (i.e., reduced mowing, reduced grazing, timber harvests within forest, timber harvests at a field-forest border, prescribed fire, use of machinery, and use of herbicides to control invasive species) for the benefit of wildlife in the next 5 years. We used boosted regression trees to determine which factors best predicted the intention to carry out each management strategy. We were able to predict accuracy >75% of the time for landowner intention to engage in open pasture and timber management strategies. Landowner values were not consistent across the different management strategies; landowners likely to reduce mowing or grazing valued ecological aspects of their land (e.g., pollinator habitat, water quality), whereas landowners likely to harvest timber valued hunting and revenue. Past experience with wildlife management was the strongest predictor of likelihood to reduce mowing and grazing. Our results suggest that expanding outreach efforts to include pasture management options would engage a broader set of landowners in creating ESH, especially if such efforts highlighted the benefits to pollinator species, water quality, and enhanced opportunities for hunting and other types of recreation.