Social Valuation of Forest-based Ecosystem Services of Female Forest Landowners in Georgia, United States

Progress report for GS22-264

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2022: $15,081.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2024
Grant Recipient: University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Puneet Dwivedi
University of Georgia
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Project Information


In the United States, about 24% of forest landowners who own 10+ acres are female, collectively owning 52 million acres. This percentage is even higher in the Southern United States (Southern US), as about 27% of forest landowners are females owning 30 million acres in total. While trends show that female forest landowners (FFLs) are on the rise, FFLs are less actively involved in forest management, compromising the sustainability of these forestlands and the flow of ecosystem services (ESS). No substantial research efforts have been made to understand the perceptions of ESS and the underlying value orientations of FFLs. This lack of knowledge about FFLs has resulted in a situation where extension efforts to engage FFLs positively were either not launched or failed due to a mismatch between the information provided and information needed resulting in lower recruitment and funding support. In this context, the project aims to capture the perceptions, motivation, synergies, and trade-offs of FFLs for sustainable management of forests in the Southern US, in general, and Georgia, in particular. A value-based approach to decision-making will help us understand the factors influencing forest management decisions. As part of the first objective to capture the perceptions and underlying motivations for the preferred ESS, we employed mixed methodology using a combination of conceptual content cognitive mapping (3CM) and cultural consensus analysis. Our initial findings highlight the ESS benefits and the underlying motivations of FFLs in five thematic areas. These are primary benefits for self and family, economic benefits, forestland as a place for family time, forestland as a place for social activity, and environmental benefits, including provisioning, regulating, and supporting services. Our results will inform the decision-making of forestry management activities. This will, in turn, cater to the needs of FFLs, which will bring a sense of community to FFLs, ensuring the sustainability of forestlands and the flow of ESS in the Southern US.

Project Objectives:

The social valuation of ESS will provide knowledge on the perceived benefits of FFLs and their underlying motivations for managing forest lands. The social valuation of ESS can be understood through preferences, synergies and trade-offs of ESS. ESS that are preferred together would appear in bundles, revealing the synergies between ESS. Those ESS that compete with other preferred ESS would emerge as trade-offs.


Value dimensions will help us understand the motivations and how synergies and trade-offs emerge based on the perceived benefits 13. The underlying values of FFLs will reveal the driving factors that motivate the preferences for ESS. Further, diverging values and varying stakeholder preferences of ESS will reveal the FFL perceptions of ESS trade-offs. Considering a value-based approach will help us examine the trade-offs of ESS as well as the motivations for ESS preferences of FFLs.


Social preferences of ESS, and the resulting ESS bundles (synergies) and trade-offs will enhance our understanding of FFL decision-making for forestland management in order to develop targeted outreach and policy interventions. Further, motivations for ESS will help evaluate the trade-offs, reveal land management intentions, and develop land-management options 14.


Goal: The goal of the study is to assess the social valuation and perceptions of ESS benefits based on socio-cultural knowledge that influence forest management decisions of FFLs in order to safeguard the sustainability of forests, sustain the flow of ESS and empower FFLs in Georgia.



  1. Assess the perceptions and preferences for ESS and the underlying motivational factors contributing to the preferences of ESS based on socio-cultural knowledge of FFLs.
  2. Evaluate the value-based ESS trade-offs and bundles based on the perception of FFLs.


Materials and methods:


Preferences and motivations towards ESS depend on the values held by FFLs. Human values represent underlying motivational structures and determine environmental behavior 17, especially the pro-environmental behaviors of women 10. Assessing value orientations provides a strong understanding of the driving factors that motivate the preferences of ESS. This provides a value-based approach to decision-making that influences the forest management decisions of FFLs. For instance, ecological value influences environmental management decisions 18. Further, social perceptions of ESS trade-offs arise from diverging values and varying stakeholder preferences of ESS. Considering multiple value orientations will help us understand the trade-offs as well as the motivation of ESS.


The three environmental value orientations - altruistic, biospheric and egotistic – best describe the environmental choices and intentions of people 19. These value orientations give rise to preferences and motivations of ESS which in turn will provide value-based trade-offs of ESS based on the perception of FFLs. The theoretical framework is captured in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Theoretical framework for assessing social preferences and trade-offs of ESS



The study will employ a combination of methods such as a mental model and social valuation to study the research objectives. The first objective will be assessed using a mental model to understand the values and the underlying motivational factors that contribute to the ESS preferences as perceived based on socio-cultural knowledge of FFLs. The second objective will be assessed using a social valuation approach to evaluate the relative importance of ESS by ranking the preferences of ESS 20. This will reveal the ESS bundles and trade-offs perceived by the FFLs.


Mental Model

Cognitive mapping, such as the mental model, provides a mechanism to understand the underlying values and motivational factors 21 influencing the preferences of perceived benefits. A mental model is a cognitive representation of external reality based on people's personal life experiences, perceptions, and understandings of the world 21. A combination of diagrammatic method (conceptual content cognitive mapping (3CM)) and oral interview method (cultural consensus analysis (CCA)) will be employed to elicit response from deeper cognitive structures. First, 3CM card sorting will be performed to collect clusters of key concepts on ESS and their motivations. Based on the clusters of key concepts, CCA is performed and presented through multi-dimensional scaling to represent the socio-cultural knowledge on preferences of ESS and the factors underlying those preferences. Detailed steps of the mental model approach are represented in Figure 2. In addition, a survey will be employed to assess the value orientations. Developing correlations on the resulting ESS and motivations with value orientations will provide the relationship between them.


Figure 2: Framework of mental model of FFL preferences of ESS


Social valuation

The social valuation approach will be used to understand the perceived bundles and trade-offs of ESS benefits. The social valuation is based on the societal valuation of ESS, that enables assessing the relative importance of the ESS 20. Preferences and relative importance of perceived ESS will reveal the trade-offs between ESS and the bundles of ESS 22. Bundles of ESS and the trade-offs will be assessed using hierarchical cluster analysis 23,24. Clusters represent ESS bundles. ESS within the identified bundle represent ESS synergies and between the bundles represent trade-offs. Cluster analysis of ESS preferences will uncover bundles and trade-offs of ESS. Furthermore, consensus analysis of the relative importance of ESS provided by the participants will provide the ESS prioritized by FFLs. Detailed steps on the approach are represented in Figure 3.


Figure 3 - Framework for social valuation of preferences, bundles, and trade-offs of ESS



The developed questionnaire includes major ESS benefits derived from forest, based on Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems provides a set of supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services for human well-being 25. The term ESS might be a technical jargon to the landowners. Hence, ESS are defined as statements that relate to the forest-based benefits that could be perceived by forest landowners. These are defined and adapted based on the typology of social values of forest-based ESS 26 and interaction with landowners (Questionnaire phase-II Q2).


Value orientations will be assessed based on Schwartz value theory. An environmental portrait value questionnaire (E-PVQ) 27 that focuses on environmental research was used to develop the questionnaire for value orientations (Questionnaire phase-II Q3). The advantages of using PVQ over Schwartz value survey is that E-PVQ is adjusted to focus on environmentally significant values and reduces the bias. E-PVQ helps to measure the respondents’ individual values less directly, reducing the bias that may arise from the respondents likely strain to choose socially acceptable values 27,28.

Survey and data sampling

For the first objective, FFLs who own forestland in Georgia were chosen for the study. FFLs were initially identified through contacts obtained from a local organization (Land & Ladies), preliminary surveys at a workshop held in Georgia on Aug 22, 2023, and the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) Stewardship Landowner database. Questionnaire phase-I and phase-II Q1&Q3 were employed for the preliminary survey and main survey respectively. Snowball sampling was used to contact more FFLs. In total, data was collected from 17 FFLs for the preliminary survey and 39 FFLs for the main survey. FFLs from the preliminary survey who expressed a desire to participate further were included in the main survey.

Data collection: Objective 1

Data was collected in two stages: preliminary freelisting and then card sorting with 3CM. Freelisting was carried out as a preliminary step in data collection. Freelisting involved eliciting key concepts or keywords from FFLs. FFL participants were asked to freelist as many key concepts as they can think of about the benefits they receive from forests and the motivations. ESS may be a technical term to the participants and hence ‘benefits from forests’ was used throughout the data collection rather than ‘ecosystem services.’ These key concepts were curated, standardized, and examined for saturation of new concepts. Once the saturation of new key concepts was reached and no new key concepts were emerging, the preliminary stage of collecting key concepts was stopped. Saturation of key concepts was achieved after collecting data from 17 FFLs. At the end of the preliminary freelisting stage, 69 key concepts were elicited from 17 FFLs. These 69 key concepts encompassed ESS benefits, as well as various other aspects that connects their perception of ESS benefits and forestland ownership, such as motivations, constraints, and forest management.

In the second stage, the 69 key concepts gathered from FFLs were then employed in a 3CM open-ended card sorting exercise. 3CM method involved two steps. In the first step the respondents were instructed to arrange the cards into groups based on a prompt. The prompt was ‘please organize the key concepts into clusters based on your understanding of the benefits perceived from your forestland and the reasons why these benefits are important to you.’ The respondents were free to discard any card or add new concept to a blank card. They were also free to organize the key concepts into any number of groups. Pile sort data obtained at the end of each card sorting exercise reveals the mental model of each respondent. In the second step, the respondents were then asked to name and explain each group.

Data collection: Objective 2

Data collection for objective 2 is in progress and we have collected data from 39 FFL respondents. Once data collection for objective-2 is complete, the data obtained from social valuation and value orientations (using Questionnaire Phase-II Q1&Q3) will be analyzed using cluster analysis and consensus analysis to produce ESS preferences, bundles, and trade-offs.  Data analysis will be carried out using UCINET or ANTHROPAC or other relevant analytical software packages.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1

A mental model of FFLs as a Stakeholder

Data analysis was carried out using statistical packages ANTHROPAC (Borgatti, 1996a) and UCINET (Borgatti et al., 2002). A mental model of FFLs is developed using cultural consensus analysis and cluster analysis, and the mental model is visualized using multidimensional scaling (MDS). Preliminary results from the study show that the mental model of FFLs’ is grouped in five thematic clusters that demonstrate the perceived ESS benefits and the underlying motivational factors. These are primary benefits for self and family, economic benefits, forestland as a place for family time, forestland as a place for social activity, and environmental benefits.

The mental model of FFLs capture the socio-cultural factors that influence FFLs perceptions about the forest-based ESS benefits. The mixed methodology of 3CM and cultural consensus analysis yielded quantitative and qualitative data that determined FFLs' mental model  by demonstrating the linkages between socio-cultural factors and perceptions of FFLs’ about ESS. The 3CM method of data collection elicited a rich and comprehensive mental model of FFLs. Compared to the conventional methodologies that use either qualitative or quantitative approaches, the mixed methodology approach using a mental model provided a rich representation of the various factors of how FFLs perceive ESS benefits. The mental model approach elicited FFL responses not just about the perceived ESS benefits and FFL motivation for protecting forests-based ESS, but also associated factors involved in owning forestland such as forest management activities and barriers of forest management, as presented in the preliminary findings.

Objective 2

Results and discussion of objective 2 will be reported in the next report, once the data collection and analysis are complete.

Participation Summary
39 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

39 Consultations
1 Journal articles
25 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

39 Farmers participated
Education/outreach description:

We are in the process of writing the first article for publication. The draft article is titled "Understanding the Female Forest Landowners' Perceptions and the Underlying Motivational Factors of Forest-based Ecosystem Service Benefits: A Mental Model Approach"

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
1 New working collaboration
Project outcomes:

Exploring the socio-cultural perceptions of forest-based ESS will enhance our understanding of decision-making framework of FFLs about forestland management to develop targeted interventions and ensure the sustainability of forestlands in the South. In addition to strengthening forest stewardship and providing the flow of ESS, this research will also pave the way for improved economic benefits through inclusive strategies targeting FFLs. Targeted communication and inclusive programs and policies will encourage the participation of FFLs in forest management and enhance their capabilities to manage the forestlands they hold and the land they would receive. Results from this study would help cater to FFL needs, empowering FFLs and paving the way for inclusion and gender equity in the forestry sector.

Knowledge Gained:

The study provides nuances of FFL perceptions about ESS, their engagement in forestry management, and their knowledge to carry out sustainable forest management. As highlighted in the results from Objective 1, the study provides new and comprehensive information and understanding of FFL’s perception of ESS. As a researcher, this helps understand the needs of FFLs, adapt future surveys to include new perceptions about ESS benefits as well as the focus to study the constraints of FFLs. For instance, our study indicates that FFLs who co-own with spouse and co-own with other family members are likely to have varying levels of engagement in forest management and, consequently, would differ in the need for decision-making. Future research could also focus on who are the primary decision makers when FFLs are co-owners and how it influences the ESS benefits perceived by FFLs. And some FFLs perceive male dominance as a barrier to engaging more actively in forest management. Targeted studies focusing on these nuances of FFLs will help develop and adapt targeted interventions in forest management and outreach programs.


We will share the recommendations, if any, at the end of the project.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.