Objectives, management practices, and perspectives of small-scale private forest ownersDoctoral thesis
Date of Examination:2023-08-23
Date of issue:2024-01-11
Advisor:Prof. Dr. Tobias Plieninger
Referee:Prof. Dr. Tobias Plieninger
Referee:Prof. Dr. Carsten Mann
Sponsor:The dissertation was embedded in the KLEIBER project (Small private forests: conservation through resource use, grants 22001218 and 22023218) by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) through the Agency of Renewable Resources (FNR) and according to a decision of the German Parliament.
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EnglishClimate change and diverse societal demands ranging from resource use and recreation to biodiversity conservation are influencing forests today and have sparked an intensive debate about future forest management. One important group to consider are small-scale private forest owners. They not only own a substantial share of the total forested area but also contain a high potential for the implementation of nature conservation as important forest structures are found on their land. However, private forest owners often possess small and fragmented forest areas. They are not primarily concerned with their forest in their daily lives, subject to socio-demographic changes, and have heterogenous objectives and perspectives. Thus, forest policy faces challenges in appropriately addressing private forest owners and considering their backgrounds, needs, and demands. This has led to conflicts, such as in the design and implementation of nature conservation policy. Against this background, it is important to understand the objectives, activities, and perspectives of small-scale private forest owners to successfully design a forest policy approach aiming to integrate societal demands in sustainable forest management. In this thesis, I provide an overview of the current state of research regarding small-scale private forest owners in Europe and North America. Further, I offer detailed insights into the background of private forest owners in the study area, the Lower Saxon Hills. The first part of this dissertation, a literature review, revealed similar historical developments of public and private forests in Europe and North America. Across both continents, small-scale private forests were related to a variety of management approaches and habitats connected to cultural landscapes. As forests are often located in a mixed-ownership landscape, cross-boundary management is important. It needs to systematically consider each ownership type without homogenizing the management as well as to integrate biodiversity conservation and social-ecological conditions. A second literature review found that current scientific literature on the conservation perspectives of European small-scale private forest owners is biased towards studies in north and western Europe and the use of quantitative methods, with little research concentrated on small-scale forest owners (< 20 ha). The parameters female gender, high levels of education, formalized forest management, active relation to the forest, and ecological values of the property were positively related to conservation perspectives. This study synthesized the given recommendations. To improve conservation in small-scale private forests, policy instruments need to be better adapted to private owners, while relevant information must be better designed and distributed. Further, the interaction between different stakeholders needs to be improved. An analysis of a quantitative survey, conducted in the Lower Saxon Hills, focused on the Natura 2000 scheme as the largest network of conservation areas worldwide and differentiated between owners with and without forest stands in Natura 2000 areas. In general, survey respondents valued regulating and cultural ecosystem services higher than provisioning ones. Owners with stands designated as Natura 2000 area rated provisioning services and profit maximization as more important. Looking at conservation activities, only the protection of habitat trees was performed more often by this group. Certain silvicultural measures such as thinning and planting introduced species were more frequently taken. Further, attitudes towards nature conservation were more negative. These results indicate a low effectiveness and acceptance regarding the implementation of the Natura 2000 system. A stronger adaptation of Natura 2000 towards small-scale private forest owners via participatory approaches or attractive incentive schemes is needed. In a second analysis of the survey data, I differentiated three forest owner groups based on their activities. All groups perceived biodiversity conservation as important. Multiple-use-oriented owners were most active, also in terms of conservation measures, while conservation-oriented owners mainly focused on passive measures (such as the protection of dead wood). Conventional owners showed only little engagement with conservation-related activities. Despite these differences, the analysis of the typology revealed universal factors promoting conservation activities. These included for example on-site consultation, information about legal regulations, and financial incentives. Focusing on the four system characteristics parameters, feedback, design, and intent, I deducted leverage points of transformative change towards integrative, conservation-oriented forest management. Promising pathways are changing the discourse, adapting measures to the local context, increasing awareness, knowledge, and interest as well as accounting for the heterogeneity of private forest owners, for their desire for autonomy and control, and for uncertainty related to climate change. To summarize, I found that private forest ownership is embedded in a complex environment shaped by socio-economic, institutional, natural, and historic conditions. Private forests provide a large variety of ecosystem services that positively affect the well-being of the wider society. While small-scale private forest owners form a heterogeneous group with various objectives, management approaches, and perspectives, their stands as well as their perspectives generally offer high potential for integrative conservation-oriented forest management. However, in the past, forest policy was not always successful in addressing the needs and demands of small-scale forest owners. A transformative change of the current political approach, including changes to relevant sectors, institutions, and stakeholders as well as to the underlying paradigms and values of the current system, has high potential. With regard to the large share of private forest owners, nature conservation is only successful if it considers local landowners and decision-makers.
Keywords: social-ecological systems; transformative change; private forest ownership; integrative conservation