The Sustaining Family Forests Initiative (SFFI)’s Tools for Engaging Landowners Effectively (TELE) program out of Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies is helping forestry agencies connect to private landowners through better outreach. SFFI-led workshops help resource professionals learn how to influence landowners to take steps to sustainably manage their lands.
“It’s really thinking about what your goals are for the landscape and who needs to be doing what, where,” SFFI program manager Katherine Hollins said. “It’s talking about the landowners and who they are and what they want to do, and figuring out how that overlaps with what the agency or conservation district needs.”
Through the TELE program, SFFI hosts two-day workshops for natural resource professionals including state and national foresters, conservation district staff, forest technicians, stewardship coordinators and others interested in developing outreach efforts to effectively work with private landowners on management plans and general forest health. The program provides a six-step process to design outreach plans that leverage resources, better connect with landowners, and reach landowners that are ready to take action on the ground.
SFFI has worked with professionals in 33 states since 2010, when TELE was introduced. The more than 1,200 forestry staff and coordinators who have been trained have increased private landowner engagement and active forest management.
The two-day workshop typically draws about 30 participants and includes an equal amount of time between training sessions and hands-on project work in small groups.
“At the end of the day, they have an outreach plan for that project, but also the skills to repeat the process on any future project,” Hollins said.
Hollins said outreach is one of the most crucial parts of private landowner engagement, but it can be challenging due to limited staff and limited resources. What works for one area may not be effective in another, so workshops are geared toward what the professionals need in their specific location. For example, the focus out West may be on wildfire readiness and fuels reduction, whereas the Southeast may focus on having private landowners opt in to prescribed burns.
“Your message is really dependent on whatever the landowners care about,” Hollins said. “If you approach a landowner and just say ‘you need to take some trees out’ they may say ‘no, no, no, nature will take care of itself and we have to protect her from you.’ It’s different when you say, ‘ok, you love warblers or turkeys, so let’s create a really good habitat for them so you can enjoy them.’”
“It’s really looking at the landowner and saying these people love driving ATVs or they love turkeys, now how can I hook up with what they want? And that really changes programming, too. Developing good outreach and good programming go hand-in-hand. It all has to be focused on the landowner,” Hollins said.
In one area, as an example, there was a need for riparian buffers, and it was determined that the private landowners did not have enough time or interest to commit to attending a workshop, so staff went out to the landowners with landscaping plans that included the buffers so the owner could just hand it to their landscaper.
“Thinking critically about landowner attributes can spur creative ideas that are different from a normal workshop or tree give-away,” Hollins said. “A lot of times there’s a tendency to take a scatter shot approach, but eventually you’ve gotten as much out of that approach as you can. So, one of the things we really push at the workshop is deciding who you want to focus on.”
“Focusing on a specific group allows you to speak to them directly and be really convincing to them. This increases the likelihood that they will complete that action,” Hollins said. “You can be more efficient if you take folks a chunk at a time.”