Conservation and the rural landowner: Understanding the human dimensions of environmental stewardship

Rebecca Perry-Hill, Purdue University


It is important to understand the human dimensions of environmental stewardship on small-scale rural landholdings because the actions of these land managers directly impact the quality of water, soil, and wildlife habitat. Although agricultural production has become increasingly concentrated on large-scale farms, the number of small, non-commercial farms and rural residential properties increases as people, who seek natural amenities and a rural lifestyle, move from cities and suburbs to lower density, rural areas. The research conducted for this dissertation aims to create a better understanding of awareness, attitudes, constraints and behaviors of small-scale land managers by exploring the current state of knowledge, perceptions, and utilization of conservation practices on small-scale rural landholdings. A mixed-methods, or quantitative and qualitative, approach was taken to compare larger-scale agricultural landowners with small-scale agricultural landowners, examine small farm operators' environmental stewardship decisions, and investigate environmental management on a particular type of small farm — horse farms. The findings suggest small agricultural and rural residential landowners generally have more positive attitudes towards the importance of water quality and perceive water quality problems to be more severe; however, they are less knowledgeable about water quality issues and less familiar with conservation organizations. In addition, small farm operators are motivated to adopt conservation practices not just for environmental reasons, but also for economic and lifestyle reasons. I also found that horse farm operators often perceive implementing conservation practices as incompatible with their existing management system, which has evolved over time to best deal with the physical features of the property, needs of the horses, and available resources. Overall, for small-scale rural landowners, the compatibility of conservation practices stood out as the most consistent factor in the adoption decision. In addition, I conclude that models of conservation behavior should include three levels of practice use (standard use, preliminary or inconsistent use, and non-use), rather than two (adoption and non-adoption). To benefit conservation efforts with small-scale rural landowners, future research in this area should continue to employ the rigorous implementation of a mixed-methods approach.




Prokopy, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Environmental management|Environmental Studies|Agricultural education

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