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Farmer, J. R., J. C. Brenner, M. Drescher, S. Dickinson, and E. G. Knackmuhs. 2016. Perpetual private land conservation: the case for outdoor recreation and functional leisure. Ecology and Society 21(2):46.
Research, part of a special feature on Private Land Conservation Landowner Motives, Policies, and Outcomes of Conservation Measures in Unprotected Landscapes

Perpetual private land conservation: the case for outdoor recreation and functional leisure

1Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies, Indiana University, 2School of Public Health, Indiana University, 3Ostrom Workshop, Indiana University, 4Ithaca College, 5School of Planning, University of Waterloo, 6Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, Indiana University


As natural areas, agricultural lands, and open spaces continue to be developed at unprecedented rates, it is important for land conservation professionals to understand the individuals who might play a role in permanently protecting these lands and their ecological services. Many factors have been shown to influence land protection decisions among private owners, including land-use activities, demographic characteristics, and environmental intention and behavior. With the hypothesis that individuals already involved in land conservation programs would be candidates for permanent protection, we set out to model conservation easement decisions within a group of participants in southern Indiana’s Classified Forest and Wildlands Program (ICFWP). We used a mailed questionnaire to survey 500 landowners, garnering 308 responses, about their interest in conservation easements. Our results indicated significant positive relationships between interest in conservation easements with variables representing perception of landscape change, outdoor recreation behavior as an adult, and environmental organization membership. By better understanding the ways these factors promote permanent land-use decisions, land conservation professionals can better allocate limited resources through strategic investments in targeting and outreach.
Key words: conservation easements; functional leisure; Indiana Classified Forest and Wildlands; land trusts; land use; private land conservation


Scientists estimate that because of population growth and urban expansion, global urban land-cover will increase by 1.2 million km² in the near future, threatening habitats, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration (Seto et al. 2012). In addition, low-density residential development (Suarez-Rubio et al. 2011) and the conversion of wetlands to farmland (Van Asselen et al 2013) and rangeland to tillable acreage (Byrd et al. 2015) are becoming increasingly important issues. These land cover changes will diminish the vital ecosystem services provided by intact natural areas (Lee 2005). Because many of these areas are privately owned, governmental land acquisition can be only one part of a comprehensive conservation solution (Norton 2000, Butchart et al. 2010), and its role has decreased in recent decades. Private land conservation (PLC) mechanisms, on the other hand, are becoming an increasingly important way to address these new challenges (Farmer et al. 2015). In the United States, where private ownership accounts for 65% of land in the contiguous 48 states and 82% in the eastern part of the country (128.7 million ha; U.S. Forest Service 2001), PLC is perhaps the most promising avenue for protecting open space, natural areas, and ecosystem services on a large scale (Trombulak and Baldwin 2010).

One PLC mechanism that works to permanently protect privately owned open space and natural areas is a conservation easement. Conservation easements represent negotiated, legally binding agreements between private property owners and conservation organizations, and they are often used to protect landscapes with ecological, historical, cultural, or recreational significance (Gustanski and Squires 2000, Farmer et al. 2011a). Conservation easements are a permanent, private land protection mechanism that divides and distributes certain property rights as agreed upon by the landowner and a third-party land conservation organization. Land is protected perpetually from development, and often times other rights are sold or given to the third party, rights such as timber, hunting, and mineral extraction (Gustanski and Squaires 2000). Land protected through conservation easements remains privately owned while state and local governments continue to receive revenue from property taxes (Land Trust Alliance [LTA] 2011). Conservation easement holders can be governmental bodies, but most often they are nonprofit land trusts (LTA 2011).

In this study we specifically follow two other studies in examining how various landowner attributes, behaviors, and land-use activities predict interest in conservation easements (Brenner et al. 2013, Farmer et al. 2016a). Brenner et al.’s (2013) early work on private landowners in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York utilized an efficient single page survey to relate independent predictor variables such as landowner attributes, land uses, and behaviors to interest in conservation easement adoption. Their resulting analysis determined that participation in environmental organizations, recreation, gathering of wild edibles, and land entitlement (amount of land owned) positively predicted interest in conservation easements. Following this in replication in southern Indiana’s Brown County, Farmer et al. (2016a) found that landowners who (1) are relatively older (around 59 years), (2) are members of an environmental organization, (3) have land already enrolled in a private land conservation mechanism (in this case the Indiana Classified Forest and Wildlands Program or ICFWP), and (4) are not hunters or anglers were most likely to have an interest in placing a conservation easement. A key difference between these two studies was participation in the ICFWP, a program specific to Indiana that seeks to conserve private forest and other natural areas, albeit nonpermanently. Given the significance of participation in the ICFWP in predicting interest in conservation easements (Farmer et al. 2016b), we elected to explore interest in conservation easements further by surveying landowners who had already enrolled property in the ICFWP. The importance of the ICFWP has been well documented, as Mayer and Tikka (2006:620) noted it as the oldest U.S. program to encourage “forest owners to manage or restore their forests to a “healthy” condition.” The State of Indiana reports that > 15,463 enrolled parcels total > 302,000 ha that are enrolled in the program (State of Indiana 2014).

Based on the prominence of this private land conservation program in previous research and the researchers’ recent published results, three specific questions guided the present work:

  1. What are the differences between ICFWP participants who show interest in conservation easements and those who do not?
  2. Within this group of temporary PLC participants, which variables best predict interest in permanent PLC through conservation easements?
    • H1: Individuals engaged in land uses that account for no monetary gain would be more apt to declare interest in or grant conservation easements.
    • H2: Individuals who are members of an environmental organization are more apt to have an interest in conservation easements.
  3. How might outdoor recreation as an adult help explain private landowner interest in conservation easements?
    • H3: Individuals who more often visit natural areas for recreation would be more apt to show interest in conservation easements.

Background literature

Although conservation easements have existed in the United States since the late 19th century (Gustanski and Squires 2000), their popularity as a PLC mechanism began to increase in the 1980s with changes to the federal tax structure, which occurred following the Unified Conservation Easement Act (UCEA; Gustanski and Squires 2000). This coincided with a decline in governmental procurement of private land and a growth in land trusts (King and Fairfax 2006). In 2011, state and local land trusts nationwide held 3.57 million ha under conservation easements (LTA 2011). Fundamental to understanding the potential of land trusts in PLC is research on the factors that might predict and promote adoption of conservation easements among private landowners (Brenner et al. 2013, Drescher 2014, Farmer et al. 2015). Understanding how these factors figure into land conservation decisions could help land trusts and other conservation professionals relate and reach out to prospective easement donors.

In recent years, scholarship has uncovered a host of variables that contribute to private landowners’ decisions to place conservation easements, including environmental values, financial incentives, land use activities, membership in environmental organizations, and participation in other PLC programs (Elconin and Luzadis 1998, Kabii and Horowitz 2006, Kilgore et al. 2007, Cross et al. 2011, Farmer et al. 2011a,b, 2016a, Brenner et al. 2013). Protecting the environment (Erickson et al. 2002) is another oft-cited nonmonetary benefit of land ownership that can motivate conservation behavior. Proenvironmental behavior can be influenced by environmental attitudes, beliefs, and values (Kaiser et al. 1999, Schultz et al. 2005, Farmer et al. 2011b). Many studies have supported the claim that environmental values are a key motivator for the adoption of conservation easements (Elconin and Luzadis 1998, Jacobson 2002, Ryan et al. 2003, Farmer et al. 2015). Brenner et al. (2013) found that being an active member of an environmental organization was a strong predictor of interest in adopting a conservation easement, as did Farmer et al. (2016a). Table 1 organizes and highlights variables discussed in this literature review and used to test interest in conservation easement placement.

Central to the issue of PLC program participation is whether or not landowners depend on their land for their livelihood. Farmer et al. (2015) found that landowners who receive monetary benefits from their land were less likely than others to consider conservation easements without financial incentives. This finding has been supported in other studies where the most important motivators for placing conservation easements were financial incentives or land-based income (Kabii and Horwitz 2006, Cross et al. 2011). Conversely, some studies have reported that financial incentives did not influence conservation-based management decisions (Kilgore et al. 2007). In addition, Koontz (2001) found that respondents with lower incomes were more likely to use their land for financial return, i.e., harvesting timber or nonforest timber products for market sale, while respondents with higher incomes were more likely to engage in active protection, citing recreation and aesthetics as important benefits of land ownership.

There is similar disagreement in the literature on the influence of recreational land use and conservation behavior, with some studies identifying recreational benefits as key drivers of conservation behavior (Bliss 1989, Koontz 2001, Brenner et al. 2013) and others finding it to be inconsequential (Bourke and Luloff 1994). Often, recreational benefits are cited in the context of nonmonetary benefits of land ownership and can include preserving forest land for hiking (Koontz 2001), wildlife viewing (Campbell and Kittredge 1996, Koontz 2001), and landscape aesthetics (Koontz 2001, Erickson et al. 2002, Ma et al. 2012).

Another important factor is residency. The sparse research on residency and participation in voluntary PLC programs suggests that individuals living on their land are more likely to participate in voluntary PLC programs than absentee landowners (Petrzelka et al. 2013). Additionally, resident landowners are more likely to engage in land protection (Rickenbach and Kittredge 2009), active land management (Kendra and Hull 2005, Finely and Kittredge 2006, Knoot et al. 2009), and governmental forest stewardship programs (Finley and Kittredge 2006).

Most of these studies focused on recreational activities on privately owned land itself, but few, if any, considered landowners’ overall outdoor recreation pursuits as adults or youth. Brenner et al. (2013) and Farmer et al. (2016a) attempted to account for outdoor recreation in their research on interest in conservation easements by asking questions about visitation to nearby protected natural areas. Neither study found these variables to be significant predictors. However, links have been drawn between outdoor recreation with environmental socialization and significant life experiences in the context of PLC. Based on the early significant life experience work of Tanner (1980) and Chawla (1998), as well as the environmental socialization research of Bixler and James (2005), scholars have posited that early life experiences in nature that include unstructured free play and adult mentoring are common variables amongst individuals engaged in proenvironmental behaviors. Farmer et al. (2011c) found these experiences to have been present for many Indiana landowners who had opted for permanent land protection with conservation easements. Although much outdoor recreation research has focused on youth experiences, little is known about adult outdoor recreation pursuits and environmental behaviors, particularly in the realm of landowner decision making.

The majority of the aforementioned conservation easement studies were able to extract explanations for why people opted to place a conservation easement; however, only Brenner et al. (2013) and Farmer et al. (2016a) compared landowners who were interested versus those who were not interested. Accordingly, the current study builds on this work to further explore the linkage between participation in a nonpermanent PLC program (ICFWP) and interest in conservation easements as a permanent PLC mechanism.


Study area

Today, Indiana’s land cover is dominated by herbaceous species and nonwoody vegetation such as lawns, grasses, cropland, and pastureland. Within these land cover types, cropland is dominant, covering 65% of the state (Farmland Information Center 2014). Forests cover 19% of the state.

Indiana was 85-93% forested prior to European settlement in the early 19th century (Jackson 2004, Smith et al. 2004). By 1920, because of the harvesting and exportation of its valued hardwood timber, Indiana had reduced its canopy cover to approximately 6% (Nelson 1998). According to the state’s first forester, Charles C. Deam, Indiana was overharvested because of its quality hardwoods and would be treeless by 1935 (Deam 1920). Consequently, Deam proposed and developed the Indiana Classified Forest Program (the precursor of ICFWP). The program and legislation “encouraged proper timber management and watershed protection on private forests. The incentive for landowners to enroll their lands in the program was a reduction in property taxes. Property taxes on qualifying land was determined by assessing the land at $1.00 per acre then applying the county tax rate resulting in a 90% or more tax reduction” (Nelson 1998). This tax rate holds today.

Lands qualified to be enrolled in the ICFWP include those that total 4.05+ ha of forest, wetland, shrubland, and/or grassland. Activities not allowed include: grazing of domestic livestock; buildings such as houses, barns, and homes; intentional burning unless written into the management plan; and areas for the growing of Christmas trees. Landowners must develop a land management plan with a state district forester, file annual reports, and allow inspection of the property every five years. Enrollment in the program can be discontinued at any time, but removing land from the program requires payment of a fee: seven-years of back taxes based on the current zoning rate of the county, plus an additional 10% interest charge (Bennett et al. 1995). Land enrolled as of December 31, 2014, totaled 302,039 ha.

Survey sample, instrument, and data collection

This study is part of a larger international project comparing data from participants in state/provincial tax-incentivized conservation programs in Indiana, the United States and Ontario, Canada. The population of interest in this study includes a sample from approximately 10,000 Indiana landowners who have their property enrolled in the ICFWP. A stratified sample of 500 names/addresses of these individuals was acquired from the Indiana Department of Forestry. Accordingly, the instrument was developed collaboratively with scholars from the University of Waterloo, Canada (see Appendix 1 for the Indiana-based questionnaire). This paper reports on specific components of the research based on results from Indiana.

Data analyzed for this paper were gathered from questions in Parts B, E, and F of the survey instrument (Appendix 1). Section B was focused on land stewardship, landscape features, and conservation management practices. Part E was based on Brenner et al.’s (2013) and Farmer et al.’s (2016a) instrument on land use, perception of landscape change, and interest in a conservation easement, as well as additional variables regarding participation in outdoor recreation as a youth and adult. Part F included demographic details.

The survey was administered on the basis of a modified Dillman Tailored Design Method (Dillman et al. 2009), which included the provisioning of a $2 bill as a prepaid cash incentive. In the U.S., $2 bills are rarely received in circulation so they are novel and, we hoped, intriguing enough to inspire a response. Questionnaires were sent to 500 sampled ICFWP participants. After 68 were returned for insufficient addresses 432 recipients remained. Mailing 1 included an informational letter alerting participants to the ensuing survey. Mailing 2 included the survey and the $2 bill. Mailing 3 was a follow-up postcard reminder that we were still collecting data. Data from returned questionnaires were entered into a Qualtrics online survey to minimize input error while generating the dataset in a downloadable SPSS file.

Survey data analyses

Analysis took place in SPSS 21.0. First we created descriptive statistics for the demographic, land use, acreage, visitation to protected areas, outdoor recreation levels, and environmental organization membership variables based on the dichotomy of no interest versus some interest in a conservation easement. We then conducted Chi-square analyses on categorical variables and t-tests on the continuous variables to test for differences between the two groups. Pearson Chi-square tests were used to compare the percent of respondents showing interest in conservation easements and those not having an interest. Independent Samples T-tests were used to compare means between the “none” vs “some” interest groups on continuous measures (area owned, area in ICFWP, number of visits per year to protected areas, perceptions of landscape change, and outdoor recreation activity). Area owned, area in ICFWP, and number of visits per year to protected areas were all log-transformed before including in the T-tests to achieve normally distributed data. These analyses were used to answer our first research question.

To answer the second research question and to test hypotheses, we used a stepwise logistic regression model that included the seven land uses, visitation to three types of protected areas, and total acreage owned (Brenner et al. 2013). We also included total acreage enrolled in the ICFWP based on the outcomes of Farmer et al. (2016a,b), outdoor recreation activity levels as a youth (Bixler and James 2005) and as an adult (Bliss 1989), perception of landscape change (Brenner et al. 2013), membership in environmental organizations (Brenner et al. 2013, Farmer et al. 2016a), as well as four demographic variables: age, gender, educational attainment, and household income, all of which are well discussed as important variables in the conservation easement literature (Cross et al. 2011, Farmer et al. 2015). The dependent variable was a dichotomous indicator of whether individuals had placed a conservation easement or were interested in a conservation easement for their land (1), or were not interested and had not placed a conservation easement (0). Within this dichotomous dependent variable, we included those who had placed a conservation easement on their land in the same group as those who expressed interest in doing so. Although these two behaviors (stated interest and revealed behavior) are not equivalent, they both stand apart from having no interest, which in turn produced no revealed behavior. The stepwise regression model automatically removed variables that were insignificant. Finally, we used correlation analysis to explore the linkage of adult outdoor recreation activity level and conservation management activities, which seemed warranted based on results from the regression analysis.

The final research question, which sought to understand how might outdoor recreation as an adult help explain private landowner interest in conservation easements, was quantified by asking participants about their level of outdoor recreation as an adult. Participants were asked to rate their level of outdoor activity (examples given include: hiking, camping, boating, etc.) as an adult using a Likert scale (1 = inactive, 2 = somewhat inactive, 3 = somewhat active, and 4 = active). Both analyses ran for research questions 1 and 2 contributed to answering this research question. Additionally, we conducted correlation analysis between adult outdoor recreation level and 10 conservation management activities collected in section 2 of the questionnaire.


Response rate and participant profile

Of the 432 questionnaires sent, 308 (71%) were returned. After removing incomplete questionnaires, 281 (65% of the original set) were suitable for analysis. Demographically, respondents were predominantly older (mean age 63), white (100%), and male (81%). Twenty percent had at minimum a bachelor’s degree. In terms of livelihoods, 43% were employed full-time while 41% were retired. Seventy-three percent noted a 2013 household income of about $50,000; 29% listed household income above $100,000. Over 45% of respondents described their property as a commercial farm, while 27% described it as a residential lot with surrounding land, 24% as a hobby farm, and 4% as a nonfarm rural business.

The median land area owned was 33.6 ha (mean 92.7 ha) and the median land area enrolled in the ICFWP was 17.4 ha (mean 31.9 ha). Of the respondents, 61% indicated that their land was dominated by forest cover, while 36% indicated a mixture of land covers. The vast majority (90%) of respondents enrolled land in the ICFWP themselves, and 58% knew someone else who participated in the ICFWP. The average landowner knew 3.8 others with land enrolled in the program. Almost a third of respondents reported that participation in the ICFWP by other landowners moderately or significantly affected their own participation in the program. See Table 2 for full demographic, land use, and behavioral descriptive results.

RQ1: What are the differences between ICFWP participants who show interest in conservation easements and those who do not?

Over half (51.2%) of our respondents had heard of conservation easements prior to the survey. One group of landowners included 34 who had granted conservation easements on their property and 77 who expressed interest in granting an easement (n = 111). The other group included 131 landowners who expressed no interest. Table 3 compares these two groups on demographics, land entitlement, land use, and other independent variables.

Significant differences (p < 0.05) were detected for the variables of educational attainment, household income, visitation frequency to national forests, and outdoor recreation activity level as an adult between those with and without an interest in conservation easements. As educational attainment increased, so did the likelihood an individual would have an interest in a conservation easement. And those with income levels between $25,000 to $50,000 and $75,000 to $150,000 were more likely to have an interest in conservation easements than those with other income levels. Those who showed an interest in conservation easements reported visiting national forests more often, having a higher perception of landscape change, and having a higher outdoor recreation activity level than those with no interest.

RQ2: Within this group of temporary PLC participants, which variables best predict interest in permanent PLC through conservation easements?

To better understand which variables best predicted interest in a conservation easement we used a forward stepwise logistic regression procedure including independent variables in Tables 1 and 2 regressed on the dependent variable “interest in a conservation easement.” This variable was coded as no interest in a conservation easement = 0 and interest or placement of a conservation easement = 1 (questionnaire Part E, Questions 4b and 4c). The model returned three significant (p < 0.05) predictors (perceptions that landscape changed; outdoor recreation as an adult; membership in an environmental organization), presented in Table 4. As scores increased in these three variables, the likelihood of expressing interest in a conservation easement increased significantly, as represented by odds ratios (exp[B]).

Odds ratios in this study can be interpreted as follows: for each unit increase in any independent variable, the odds of also expressing interest in a conservation easement increases by a multiplicative factor of that independent variable’s odds ratio. For example, someone who “strongly agrees” with having perceived landscape change in the county has 1.23 times the odds of being interested in a conservation easement compared with someone who only “somewhat agrees” (Wald Chi-square[1] = 4.19, p = 0.041). Similarly, someone who reports one unit higher in outdoor activity has 1.76 times the odds of showing interest in a conservation easement compared with someone who reporting one unit lower (Wald Chi-square[1] = 8.332, p = 0.004). The most powerful predictor of interest in a conservation easement is being a member, donor, or participant in an organization that focuses on environmental issues. Those who reply “Yes” to supporting environmental organizations have 2.83 times the odds of showing interest in a conservation easement (Wald Chi-square[1] = 11.65, p = 0.044). Because these predictor variables are entered into the logistic regression model simultaneously, each odds ratio reported here is adjusted to account for the other two variables in the model.

Those interested in conservation easements reported they were more active as adults in outdoor recreation than those with no interest in conservation easements. Specifically, 59% of respondents interested in conservation easements indicated that they are very active in outdoor recreation, compared to 38% of respondents not interested in conservation easements.

We hypothesized that individuals engaged in land uses that account for no monetary gain would be more apt to declare interest in or grant conservation easements. Our regression results did not find this to be the case, rather, none of the land uses tested was a significant predictor of interest in a conservation easement. We also hypothesized that individuals who are members of an environmental organization are more apt to have an interest in conservation easements. Our results did support this hypothesis. Among landowners interested in a conservation easement, 44% belonged to an environmental organization, compared with 19% of those not interested in a conservation easement. Based on the regression results, belonging to an environmental organization increases the probability of conservation easement interest by 12%.

RQ3: How might outdoor recreation as an adult help explain private landowner interest in conservation easements?

Finally, we hypothesized that individuals who more often visit natural areas for recreation would be more apt to show interest in conservation easements. The results of our survey showed a significant relationship of interest in conservation easements with visitation to national forests (p < 0.001), as well as activity level of outdoor recreation as an adult (p = 0.001) but not with visitation to state parks or state forests. Multiple regression results in Table 3 highlight that adult outdoor recreation activity was a significant indicator of interest in a conservation easement (p < 0.01), whereas visitation to national forests was no longer significant after accounting for significance of outdoor recreation and membership in an environmental group.

To further explore this result, we compared adult outdoor recreation activity level with data on engagement in 10 conservation management activities given land management and eco-restoration activities are equated to a recreation activity and leisure experience according to Chen et al.’s (2013) supposition on horticultural activities. Results from the correlation analysis indicated that adult outdoor recreation activity level was significantly correlated with actions leading to habitat improvement and erosion control activities. The effects of each were marginal, which was expected given the indirect linkage. Several other conservation management activities were marginally correlated with the adult outdoor recreation activity level.


Perception of landscape change, outdoor recreation as an adult, and membership in an environmental organization were all found to be the most powerful predictors of whether or not landowners enrolled in temporary PLC programs (in this case the ICFWP) would show interest in pursuing a permanent conservation easement. Although these results are somewhat consistent with other literature on PLC participants (e.g., Brenner et al. 2013), the specificity of the results pertaining to outdoor recreation and landscape change perception make important contributions to the literature and the field of land conservation by better describing those landowners interested in conservation easements.

As in other studies (e.g., Brenner et al. 2013, Farmer et al. 2016a), membership in an environmental organization was found to be the strongest determinant of interest in conservation easements. Previous studies have also linked conservation behavior to environmental awareness (Zorondo-Rodríguez et al. 2014) and environmental values (Elconin and Luzadis 1998, Jacobson 2002, Ryan et al. 2003, Farmer et al. 2015). Perhaps, in our case, environmental awareness and environmental values are manifested through membership in environmental organizations.

Still more revealing are the roles of adult outdoor recreation activity and perception of landscape change. Interestingly, the variable “recreational use,” explicitly characterized as an on-site land use, was not found to be significantly related to conservation easement interest (in contrast with Brenner et al. 2013). However, adult outdoor recreation activities writ large were significant. Although the literature on recreation’s relationship to conservation behavior has yielded mixed results, our study suggests that engagement in outdoor recreation experiences anywhere is positively related to interest in granting a conservation easement on one’s own property. Our results support the early work on outdoor recreation and proenvironmental behavior of Dunlap and Heffernan (1975), who found outdoor recreationists to report more engagement in proenvironmental behaviors than the general public. The work of Theodori and others (1998) further specified the relationships between specific outdoor recreation and proenvironmental behavior. For example, hunting and off-road vehicle use were not aligned with proenvironmental behavior, while lower-impact, nonextractive activities like picnicking, camping, hiking/backpacking, and mountain biking were aligned with proenvironmental behavior. Conversely, our results linking outdoor recreation to environmental behavior interest/intention contradict subsequent findings of Nisbet et al. (2009) and Teisl and O’Brien (2003).

Landowners most interested in conservation easements were active outdoor recreationists who visited national forests significantly more often than others. One possible explanation for this outcome is that when compared to state parks and state forests, the Hoosier National Forest is less developed, with fewer amenities, and likely draws a different type of recreationist. Our finding also raises a question: To what extent do these landowners who report engagement in outdoor recreation do so on their own property? Bliss (1989) reported that recreation was a prime objective of private forest landowners. This study also reported that recreating on their own land was a meaningful family activity. Further, managing the land itself was a form of recreation for many landowners. In Butler and Leatherby’s (2004) survey of family forest owners, nearly half of respondents reported that an important reason for owning forestland was hunting or other recreation.

Hunting was not a strong predictor of interest in permanent land conservation in our study. Instead, our study suggests an alternative explanation involving land management activities as a form of recreation and leisure. Correlation results (Table 4) show a relationship between conservation management activities and adult outdoor recreation. One possible explanation is that landowners are engaging in a sort of “functional leisure.” Based on Stebbin’s definition that leisure is an “uncoerced activity engaged in during free time, which people want to do and, in either a satisfying or a fulfilling way (or both), use their abilities and resources to succeed at” (Stebbins 2008:4), functional leisure would comprise those uncoerced activities that people engage in that result in an end product or accomplishment. Land management and conservation activities might fit this definition. Indeed, most of the conservation management activities from our survey would not be considered mandatory requisites for owning the land; rather, landowners might be internally, if at all, compelled to engage in these activities. As found by (Farmer et al. 2016b) analysis of land use activities (environmental, residential, or financial) in relation to conservation management activities, those using land for more environmental protection or residential purposes were more apt to engage in and complete conservation management activities. In essence, we propose these landowners are engaging in productive, or functional leisure. This functional leisure hypothesis is consistent with research carried out by Brenner et al. (2013), which suggested that landowners who actively use, or work, their land (albeit not for income) are significantly more likely to support permanent land conservation through conservation easements.

Residency on ICFWP land, surprisingly, was not a significant predictor of conservation easement interest in our study. The importance of residential status was particularly intriguing given that it has only recently been acknowledged in the literature. Petrzelka et al. (2013), for example, found that individuals living on their land were more likely to participate in voluntary conservation programs than those with single use parcels not containing a residence. Meanwhile, absentee forestland owners have been found to be less motivated, interested, or engaged in the management and protection of their property (Kendra and Hull 2005, Finely and Kittredge 2006, Rickenbach and Kittredge 2009, Knoot et al. 2009). The relationships between permanent and seasonal residency, absenteeism, and voluntary land conservation warrant more research in the future.


Our results have a number of potentially important implications for policy, practice, and future research. Our demonstration that interest in permanent private land conservation depends significantly on other widespread activities such as support for environmental organizations and outdoor recreation suggests great potential to “mainstream” this conservation mechanism.

Land conservation organizations, which typically broker and hold conservation easements, could partner with state agencies responsible for managing public lands by using state land conservation program rosters to identify landowners with high potential for granting conservation easements. For example, a statewide or local land trust could work with the state’s department/division of natural resources to identify and communicate with landowners already involved in voluntary PLC programs such as the ICFWP. Another promising approach would be for land conservation organizations to work with local environmental organizations and identify their landowning members who might also be potential conservation easement grantors. A precedent for such a collaboration is the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, which has protected land at large spatial scales (over 303,514 ha throughout the commonwealth) via strong working relationships with nongovernmental organizations like local land trusts (Virginia Outdoors Foundation 2016).

Permanent private-land conservation easement programs could also help achieve conservation goals over long temporal scales via combination with nonpermanent voluntary conservation programs, such as the ICFWP. Landowners who initially enrolled land in a nonpermanent mechanism like the ICFWP could later be approached to consider permanent protection mechanisms such as conservation easements. Thus, conservation easement programs, if developed as mainstream opportunities for environmentally minded private landowners could play a pivotal role in an integrated effort to achieve large-landscape conservation goals over the short, medium, and long terms (Trombulak and Baldwin 2010).

Our study has a number of limitations that should be considered with the interpretation of the data and for future use of the survey methodology. The present study was limited to only one program in Indiana in which respondents were overwhelming older, white males. Future studies should continue to strive for samples that represent landowning populations. In this regard, studies on more demographically and geographically diverse landowners should be undertaken to determine if they may yield similar or different results. Generalizations about landowner decision making and behavior vis-à-vis permanent voluntary land conservation will depend on broader representation of the landowning population nationwide.

The instrument used in our study, developed by Brenner et al. (2013), lacks the breadth and depth necessary for fine-grained and nuanced data collection on landowner motivations. Multiple-item factors from a more detailed instrument would enhance our capacity for measuring multidimensional items embedded within land use. Response and nonresponse bias are always concerns in survey research such as this. We were unable to account for nonresponse bias; therefore we contend that the results are representative of respondents to this survey and others like them. Finally, our choice to lump those that had placed a conservation easement with those that indicated an interest in doing so runs the risk of conflating stated and revealed preferences. More research should more specifically tease out differences between those who show interest in conservation easements, those who actually grant them, and those who show no interest. Future studies should specifically solicit data from individuals who had considered a conservation easement but declined to grant one. Unfortunately, landowners such as these are not identifiable in public records, so they must be approached through survey research, which is subject to the biases discussed above. One way to control for the confounding factor of easement awareness and knowledge is to provide more in-depth educational material about conservation easements prior to administering a survey.

Future research should seek to expand and refine the Brenner et al. (2013) instrument in a manner that does not compromise its efficiency while allowing for more robust analysis and more nuanced interpretation. One notable gap is questions that would illustrate how recreational experiences on one’s own land influence proenvironment values and land-conservation behaviors. Especially promising is work that could provide a more fine-grained understanding of on-site recreational activities, especially land management-as-leisure, or what we call productive leisure or functional leisure. Such work could shed important, much-needed light on the issues for researchers in their endeavor to understand conservation decision making on private lands.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


We thank Indiana University’s Dept. of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Studies for funding in support of this research. We also thank Dr. Burnell C. Fischer, Mr. Jay Whitacre, and Mr. Justin Wolfe for their contributions to this project. Finally, we thank Indiana’s Division of Forestry for assisting us in our contact with landowners.


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Address of Correspondent:
James R. Farmer
1025 E. 7th St.
SPH 133
Bloomington, IN 47405
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