Private land conservation decision-making: An integrative social science model


Owners and managers of private lands make decisions that have implications well beyond the boundaries of their land, influencing species conservation, water quality, wildfire risk, and other environmental outcomes with important societal and ecological consequences. Understanding how these decisions are made is key for informing interventions to support better outcomes. However, explanations of the drivers of decision making are often siloed in social science disciplines that differ in focus, theory, methodology, and terminology, hindering holistic understanding. To address these challenges, we propose a conceptual model of private-land conservation decision making that integrates theoretical perspectives from three dominant disciplines: economics, sociology, and psychology. The model highlights how heterogeneity in behavior across decision-makers is driven by interactions between the decision context, attributes of potential conservation behaviors, and attributes of the decision-maker. These differences in both individual attributes and context shape decision-makers’ constraints and the potential and perceived consequences of a behavior. The model also captures how perceived consequences are evaluated and weighted through a decision-making process that may range from systematic to heuristic, ultimately resulting in selection of a behavior. Outcomes of private land behaviors across the landscape feed back to alter the socio-environmental conditions that shape future decisions. The conceptual model is designed to facilitate better communication, collaboration, and integration across disciplines and points to methodological innovations that can expand understanding of private land decision making. The model also can be used to illuminate how behavior change interventions (e.g., policies, regulations, technical assistance) could be designed to target different drivers to encourage environmentally and socially beneficial behaviors on private lands.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Rebecca S. Epanchin-Niell
Douglas B. Jackson-Smith
Robyn S. Wilson
Matthew Ashenfarb, Resources for the Future
Ashley A. Dayer
Vicken Hillis, University of California, Davis
Gwenllian D. Iacona
Ezra M. Markowitz
Sandra T. Marquart-Pyatt
Tyler Treakle, Resources for the Future
Journal of Environmental Management

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