Soil and Water Conservation using the Socioeconomics, Sustainability Concerns, and Policy Preference for Residual Biomass Harvest

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While woody bioenergy opens up a new market opportunity for residual biomass, overharvesting of residual biomass can adversely affect soil health, water quality, timber health and stand productivity, among others. As such, it is important to understand the proportion of residual biomass forestland owners are willing to leave unharvested for soil nutrient and other environmental benefit purposes, their sustainability concerns, and policy preferences. Toward this end, we conducted a mail survey on 900 randomly selected forestland owners in Virginia and used ordinal logistic regression, cluster analyses, and Cochran-Armitage trend tests to analyze the data. Our analyses of the 121 most complete responses suggest that factors such as ownership tenure, mode of land acquisition, size of forestland, and forestland ownership objectives, among other factors, affect decisions regarding the proportion of residual biomass forestland owners choose to leave unharvested. Analyses of landowners' sustainability concerns indicate a clustering pattern, where concerns about sufficiency of best management practices and the potential implications of harvest decision on soil and water quality are among the statistical representatives of their respective clusters. Respondents likely to engage in harvest practices that do not leave any residual biomass on the ground have a preference for policies that help cover management cost. Decision makers administering or considering such policy proposals should be aware of the inadvertent effect such cost sharing arrangements can have in encouraging unsustainable practices. These results also hint at the potential need for combining such cost sharing arrangements with extension and outreach programs. By accounting for landowners' concerns and preferences, this study complements previous studies that primarily adopt engineering based approaches and solutions.



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