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Forest owner representation of forest management and perception of resource efficiency: a structural equation modeling study

Andrej Ficko, University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty, Department of Forestry and Renewable Forest Resources
Andrej Boncina, University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty, Department of Forestry and Renewable Forest Resources


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Underuse of nonindustrial private forests in developed countries has been interpreted mostly as a consequence of the prevailing noncommodity objectives of their owners. Recent empirical studies have indicated a correlation between the harvesting behavior of forest owners and the specific conceptualization of appropriate forest management described as “nonintervention” or “hands-off” management. We aimed to fill the huge gap in knowledge of social representations of forest management in Europe and are the first to be so rigorous in eliciting forest owner representations in Europe. We conducted 3099 telephone interviews with randomly selected forest owners in Slovenia, asking them whether they thought they managed their forest efficiently, what the possible reasons for underuse were, and what they understood by forest management. Building on social representations theory and applying a series of structural equation models, we tested the existence of three latent constructs of forest management and estimated whether and how much these constructs correlated to the perception of resource efficiency. Forest owners conceptualized forest management as a mixture of maintenance and ecosystem-centered and economics-centered management. None of the representations had a strong association with the perception of resource efficiency, nor could it be considered a factor preventing forest owners from cutting more. The underuse of wood resources was mostly because of biophysical constraints in the environment and not a deep-seated philosophical objection to harvesting. The difference between our findings and other empirical studies is primarily explained by historical differences in forestland ownership in different parts of Europe and the United States, the rising number of nonresidential owners, alternative lifestyle, and environmental protectionism, but also as a consequence of our high methodological rigor in testing the relationships between the constructs. We suggest developing natural resource management concepts that emphasize forests not just as ecosystems, but as social-ecological systems.

Key words

attitudes; conceptualization; management concepts; natural resources; private forest owners; social representations theory; timber supply; values

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes 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