Indiana Woodland Steward – Who Reads It and What Do They (You) Think?
By Brian MacGowan
As an extension specialist at Purdue University, my primary role is to teach people about wildlife conservation and empower the citizens of Indiana with the ability to make informed decisions regarding wildlife management which ultimately helps to improve their quality of life. The Woodland Steward is one outlet that I value in getting wildlife, forestry and other information to Indiana woodland owners and it has been my pleasure to serve as chairperson of the Woodland Steward editorial board since 2008. One of the things we commonly ask in Extension is, “Are we making a difference?”
In finding answers to this simple, yet complex, question we are asked to evaluate what we do relative to the cost of doing it. Each year contributions from member organizations, many Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and hundreds of readers fund all production and mailing costs for three issues of the Woodland Steward each year to over 30,000 subscribers. With increasing costs of production and budgetary constraints by contributors, the “value” of this publication has been questioned by some. To this end, the Woodland Steward Board of Directors authorized a survey of Woodland Steward subscribers to help us learn more about our readers and evaluate the use and impact of the Woodland Steward.
In October 2011, a survey was mailed to 1,100 readers. A total of 254 usable surveys were returned or completed online. We asked readers general questions about their woodland, reasons for ownership, management activities, and use of the Woodland Steward and education.
Readers owned an average of 71.6 acres, first acquiring woodlands in 1978 on average. Scenery, habitat for wildlife, and passing on land to their heirs were the most important reasons for owning woodlands in Indiana. Few participated in USDA Farm Bill programs, but 35% of readers had acreage enrolled in the Indiana Classified Forest and Wildlands Program. While only 19% had written stewardship plans for their woodlands, this rate is almost 5 times higher than the national average. Even though production of timber products was moderately important as a reason why they own their woods, 54% had trees removed from their woodlands. Trees were mature (77%), improve quality of remaining trees (64%), remove trees damaged by natural catastrophe (42%), needed wood for own use (29%), needed additional income (24%) were the most common reasons for removing trees.
Many recreation or management activities occurred within the past five years. Hunting (55%), recreation other than hunting (43%), trail maintenance (32%), tree planting (20%), and invasive species control (20%) were the most common activities. For the readers who answered, one in four managed their woodlands specifically for wildlife, with most (90%) managing for white-tailed deer and more than half for small mammals, game birds, and songbirds.
Ninety percent indicated they received the Woodland Steward within the past two years and read much of its content. Most (72%) were not aware the Woodland Steward is available online. The features that were most important to readers were forest pest and disease updates, invasive species control, days gone by picture, wildlife management, forest/timber management, and how-to articles. The use, value or relevance of the information was mixed. About half (50% to 54%) of the readers indicated that information in the Woodland Steward did not meet their expectations or impacted how they manage their woodlands. However, about half (51% to 58%) indicated that the information is relative to their needs, information learned has saved/earned them money, and they have implemented at least one new practice learned from an article.
What does this all mean? Readers of the Woodland Steward own more forestland and give more forethought to long-term management than the average woodland owner in Indiana. Our board meets three times a year to discuss the editorial plan and article content. According with survey results, we do a good job with the topics we cover and features, but there is room to improve upon the information we provide. In this age of blogs, tweets and texts, the Woodland Steward provides a unique medium for communication and education.
Brian MacGowan is an Extension Wildlife Specialist with Purdue University’s Department of Forestry.