The Human Dimensions of Invasive Plant Management on Family Forestlands: A Case Study of Indiana

Mysha K Clarke, Purdue University


Invasive plant management is an increasing concern in socio-ecological systems. Ecologically, invasive plants can displace native species, reduce forest health and productivity, and degrade recreational areas. From a socio-economic perspective, the United States spend approximately USD 137 annually in damage and control costs from invasive plants and animals. Despite these impacts, invasive plants continue to spread in forest ecosystems because of various anthropogenic factors like trade, transportation, climate change, and limited regulation in many states. It is pivotal to consider the role of family forest owners (FFOs) in invasive plant management in forest ecosystems because collectively they own 36% of forests in the United States. So far, a limited number of studies have focused on the human dimensions of invasive plant management, and even fewer studied FFOs. To address this gap, we had three primary research objectives. First, we wanted to investigate the knowledge, attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of FFOs (and forestry professionals) towards invasive plants and their needs and concerns regarding the prevention and control of invasive plants. Second, we wanted to assess factors that influence FFOs’ perceptions, intentions, and individual actions regarding invasive plant management. Third, we wanted to assess the role of social influence and collective efficacy beliefs in shaping FFOs’ perceptions towards cooperative management of invasive plants. To address these research objectives, we used a mixed-methods approach to collect and analyze both qualitative and quantitative data. The qualitative data was collected by conducting 25 face-to-face, semi-structured interviews with FFOs and forestry professionals who work with FFOs. The quantitative data was collected by conducting a mailed survey of 2,600 randomly selected FFOs in Indiana, USA. We found that FFOs were moderately familiar with and concerned about invasive plants on their own and nearby properties. Although most FFOs expressed little confidence in their abilities to remove and prevent invasive plants, they also reported certain invasive plant management actions including inspecting their woodlands, talking to families and other landowners, and removing invasive plants, all without much input from natural resource professionals. Furthermore, most FFOs indicated that they learned about invasive plants and how to manage them via their social networks and self-directed learning. The majority of FFOs also reported limited or no experience interacting with natural resource professionals and they also expressed little interest in such interactions in the future. Our results also suggest that FFOs are influenced by perceived severity, perceived vulnerability, and perceived self-efficacy, which were all statistically significant predictors of FFOs’ self-reported likelihood to manage invasive plants on their properties in the next five years. We also found that FFOs who had invasive plant management experience and those who were subject to social influence from families, friends and other woodland owners, tended to indicate a higher likelihood to remove invasive plants in the next five years. Unlike some of the previous studies, the only statistically significant demographic and ownership characteristics that predicted FFOs’ self-reported likelihood to remove invasive plants was education level, owning woodlands for recreational purposes, and owning woodland to pass on to heirs. In terms of collective invasive plant management, we found that previous experience of talking to others about invasive plants, previous experience of working with neighbors, and perceiving a need for collective action to manage invasive plants, were all statistically significant predictors of FFOs’ self-reported plan to work with their neighbors to remove invasive plants in the next five years. Perceived self-efficacy was also found to be a statistically significant predictor. However, none of the demographic or ownership characteristics except for woodland holding size, were statistically significant predictors of FFOs’ likelihood to engage in cooperative management of invasive plants. Based on our findings, we suggest that future invasive plant management policies and programs should develop innovative ways to build individual competency, self-confidence, a shared concern about invasive plants, and trust among FFOs. Our results also highlight the importance of applying the concepts of collective efficacy and social influence to better understand invasive plant management specifically and possibly forest management challenges in general. Overall, our results can be used to inform forestry professionals and organizations about potential strategies to engage FFOs in invasive plant management on their own properties and to work collectively with others to create healthier and more productive forested landscapes.




Ma, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social research|Forestry|Natural Resource Management

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server