Incentive programs within the Farm Bill allow landowners to participate in conservation practices while maintaining land ownership. A recent study by researchers from the college and the nonprofit Point Blue Conservation Science, published in Conservation Letters, finds that it is necessary to sustain the environmental benefits from these practices after programs end.

According to Assistant Professor Ashley Dayer, the lead author, some conservation practices are more likely to continue providing benefits without active management by landowners, while others require a more hands-on approach. Dayer and a team of researchers, including master’s student Seth Lutter, examined existing research to determine what factors contribute to continued landowner conservation efforts after incentive programs end, a practice the study’s authors call “persistence.”

“We often hear assumptions about how landowners gain a stewardship ethic due to involvement in these programs, which may lead them to continue conservation activities after the programs end, but there’s been very little empirical research to support this assumption,” Dayer said.

The authors developed five explanations to predict persistence: landowners’ attitudes toward the conservation practices, their motivations for participating in incentive programs, habit formation, resource access, and social influences. “More research is needed in the social science side of landowner conservation incentive programs,” Lutter noted. “American taxpayers are investing billions in these programs, so it’s essential to understand how to promote the programs’ long-term effectiveness.”

Ultimately, incentive programs that assist landowners with conservation efforts benefit the entire population. “Private lands conservation is critical,” Dayer concluded. “A disproportionately high amount of wildlife is found on private lands, so having landowners engaged in managing their land is critical to having benefits like wildlife habitat or water quality that all of us enjoy.”

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