The Driftless Forest Network is a collaborative partnership between twenty organizations and agencies serving woodland owners across the Driftless Area, a 12 county forested region in Southern Wisconsin. The Driftless Forest Network first participated in a TELE workshop in the summer of 2011 and partners have continued to work with the Sustaining Family Forests Initiative throughout five years of landowner outreach through the My Wisconsin Woods program.
In 2011, the Network identified two distinct opportunities for engagement with landowners in the Driftless Area. Recognizing that a significant number respondents to the National Woodland Owner Survey indicated a preference for receiving information about forest management through written material and through consultation with professionals, the Network decided to launch a campaign offering landowners one of two options: a free copy of My Healthy Woods, a handbook about forest management developed in partnership with the American Forest Foundation or a visit from a forester to walk their property and offer management advice. The campaign targeted landowners with no previous history of engagement (they had not participated in past workshops, cost-share programs, or tax abatement programs). The Network’s primary intention was to cultivate in landowners a deepened engagement with their land that would lead to enhanced forest management.
The campaign involved a series of four mailings. Providing landowners with one of two offers (the offer of free information or a forester visit) allowed the Network to identify which offer resonated the most with landowners. The Network has run the campaign several times since its initial launch in 2012, but response rates have remained generally consistent: landowners who receive the offer of free information respond at a rate of 20% and landowners who receive the offer of a forester respond at a rate of about 5%. Follow-up surveys of both respondents and non-respondents indicate that respondents who asked for written information were seeking an introductory level of information whereas those who requested a forester may have already completed some management on their property and were seeking additional advice or affirmation. Additionally, follow-up offers of a walk-through with a forester to landowners who had already requested and received My Healthy Woods had a response rate of 13.5%.
With funding from both the U.S. Forest Service and the American Forest Foundation, the Driftless Forest Network has continued to hone its campaigns and test new outreach, evaluating targeted outreach to hunters in addition to campaigns designed to promote specific ecologically-minded behaviors such as oak or bird management. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is replicating the Network’s methodology and, in 2016, Driftless Forest Network partners attended a second TELE workshop as they began to plan for the expansion of their work through a multi-state grant from the U.S. Forest Service, planning an adaption of My Healthy Woods and outreach in the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa.