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A mixed-methods analysis of social-ecological feedbacks between urbanization and forest persistence

Todd BenDor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Douglas A. Shoemaker, North Carolina State University
Jean-Claude Thill, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Monica A. Dorning, North Carolina State University
Ross K. Meentemeyer, North Carolina State University


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We examined how social-ecological factors in the land-change decision-making process influenced neighboring decisions and trajectories of alternative landscape ecologies. We decomposed individual landowner decisions to conserve or develop forests in the rapidly growing Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. region, exposing and quantifying the effects of forest quality, and social and cultural dynamics. We tested the hypothesis that the intrinsic value of forest resources, e.g., cultural attachment to land, influence woodland owners’ propensity to sell. Data were collected from a sample of urban, nonindustrial private forest (U-NIPF) owners using an individualized survey design that spatially matched land-owner responses to the ecological and timber values of their forest stands. Cluster analysis (n = 126) revealed four woodland owner typologies with widely ranging views on the ecosystem, cultural, and historical values of their forests. Classification tree analysis revealed woodland owners’ willingness to sell was characterized by nonlinear, interactive factors, including sense of place values regarding the retention of native vegetation, the size of forest holdings, their connectedness to nature, ‘pressure’ from surrounding development, and behavioral patterns, such as how often landowners visit their land. Several ecological values and economic factors were not found to figure in the decision to retain forests. Our study design is unique in that we address metropolitan forest persistence across urban-rural and population gradients using a unique individualized survey design that richly contextualizes survey responses. Understanding the interplay between policies and landowner behavior can also help resource managers to better manage and promote forest persistence. Given the region’s paucity of policy tools to manage the type and amount of development, the mosaic of land cover the region currently enjoys is far from stable.

Key words

forest persistence; land-use change; social-ecological feedbacks; tax policy; urban forests; urbanization

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087