Challenges and Opportunities for Private Landowners to Initiate Conservation Actions

Challenges and Opportunities for Private Landowners to Initiate Conservation Actions
Agencies, partners, and private landowners working together to help resolve natural resource issues. Photo Credit: USFWS


Across Oregon, motivated landowners are removing invasive plants, replacing culverts, restoring wetlands, establishing native plants, and taking large and small actions to enhance habitat for fish and wildlife. Landowners with an urban backyard, a few acres in the foothills of the Cascades, or a large ranch in eastern Oregon can all take action to benefit Strategy Species and Strategy Habitats. However, a number of challenges slow progress toward conservation success. Landowners need to assess which aspects of a project they can do themselves, which aspects require assistance, and know whom to ask for assistance.

Some challenges that a landowner might encounter include:

  • Finding information relevant to a project
  • Recognizing ways to create better habitat
  • Setting priorities among several conservation needs
  • Obtaining permits, particularly for projects involving streams, lakes, and wetlands
  • Zoning restrictions and complex habitat tax deferral programs
  • Selecting the appropriate plants for a particular site
  • Avoiding inadvertently creating opportunities for invasive species to take hold
  • Accessing labor, equipment, and plants to carry out a project
  • Covering the costs of a conservation project

This section outlines challenges faced by many private landowners and opportunities to address those challenges, but collaborative leadership is still needed for the actions to succeed. Currently, no single organization has the charge to address the issues outlined below. Landowners are encouraged to work with state agencies, including the ODFW and OWEB, as well as SWCDs, watershed councils, land trusts, landowner organizations, and nonprofit conservation organizations. Additionally, further discussion among these organizations is needed to address the challenges outlined below.

In 2006, the Conservation Strategy recognized “Institutional Barriers to Voluntary Conservation” as a statewide Key Conservation Issue, and outlined some suggested solutions. In 2016, this chapter has been focused to address the needs of individual private landowners. Planners, municipalities, and other organizations will find additional information on this topic in How to Use the Strategy.

The NRCS helping a private landowner with a conservation plan along the Trask River, Oregon.
Photo Credit: USDA NRCS. The NRCS helping a private landowner with a conservation plan along the Trask River, Oregon.

Goals and Actions

Goal 1: Make it easier for landowners to find assistance on conservation projects.

For complex projects involving multiple partners and funding sources, it can be difficult to receive approval from several agencies or foundations, each of which may have different goals, criteria, and standards for monitoring, completion, or success.

Action 1.1. Expand technical assistance and site-specific restoration information for landowners. Technical support services include information to help evaluate habitat, information about best management practices, and monitoring.

Landowners often want help in designing projects, applying for funds, obtaining permits, and conducting on-the-ground work. At present, many agencies and conservation organizations have developed brochures and web resources on invasive non-native plants, native plant guides, habitat management guidelines, and other aspects of habitat restoration. But sorting through this information to find what is relevant to a landowner’s property can be overwhelming. At the same time, excellent technical information that would be useful to landowners may not be finding its way into their hands.

Technical and communications staff across agencies should be urged to collaborate in this area. Some ways to increase technical assistance to landowners include increasing coordination between incentive program staff, providing training for groups that work with landowners, developing more targeted outreach materials, providing avenues for landowners to learn from one another, helping with setting up demonstrations and workshops, and developing information about funding and incentives programs.

Action 1.2: Build capacity among organizations to provide the technical expertise described in the above action item.

Landowners often turn to an organization with a local presence to help implement a conservation project. Organizations with field offices provide a natural entry point for landowners to find information. Examples include the NRCS, ODFW, SWCDs, watershed councils, land trusts, nonprofit conservation organizations, and university extension offices. However, there is no single organization currently providing oversight or coordination. Collaborative discussion and leadership are needed to determine the best avenues to provide technical assistance throughout the state.

Since the Dust Bowl days, SWCDs have been working directly with landowners around the country, providing technical assistance on soil erosion and water quality issues. In recent years, however, as more landowners have requested help with habitat restoration projects, SWCDs have expanded into this area. In Oregon during this timeframe, watershed councils have also emerged to work one-on-one with landowners on projects, particularly those that impact salmon survival. However, the resources, capacity, and abilities of SWCDs and watershed councils are unequal across the state. Enhanced information sharing among agencies and organizations like SWCDs, watershed councils, and nonprofit conservation organizations will help landowners find consistent and reliable information.

Goal 2: Help landowners plan and prioritize conservation actions on their properties, evaluate results, and build long-term relationships to help them achieve their goals.

Action 2.1. Help landowners develop conservation plans that stress multi-year solutions, noting which conservation needs are most pressing.

Technical guidance should help prioritize actions and provide resources for information over time. Grants provided as incentives to landowners should be a starting point for a long-term relationship, with additional opportunities for technical assistance. Conservation projects are dynamic and require ongoing attention, and there is concern among landowners and the conservation community about the short-term nature of many grant cycles. Continuing education is one way that landowners can add to their knowledge base to inform future work even when grant cycles are complete.

Action 2.2. Improve data management, coordination, and sharing between conservation partners to support landowner-initiated conservation actions.

Effective restoration requires collecting, analyzing, and sharing data to adapt activities to changing conditions or to better meet goals. Currently, a variety of entities collect data using different protocols, and there is a need for greater coordination to improve adaptive management throughout the state. Additionally, agencies need to increase collaboration to make the most efficient use of limited resources and reach shared goals. Strengthening data management and distribution is also a key recommendation in the Conservation Strategy’s Monitoring Chapter. Some approaches include:

  • identifying critical data collection activities and associated data management efforts
  • establishing a consistent data management system
  • adopting and using standard protocols for database design, data collection, and metadata development
  • mapping applications for information sharing

Goal 3: Provide information about financial incentives for conservation projects.

For example, forest thinning and invasive species removal can provide direct economic benefits to a property. There are also indirect ways to encourage conservation while also realizing economic gains. For example, conservation easements allow a property to remain in private ownership, while the landowner receives tax benefits in exchange for an agreement to manage the land for specific, agreed-upon conservation benefits.

Action 3.1. Provide information about how conservation projects can enhance property values. Provide information about grants, cost sharing programs, property tax deferral, and conservation easements.

Agencies, SWCDs, and watershed councils all have an interest in helping landowners find information on habitat deferral programs, but currently there is limited capacity to organize and distribute this information effectively. One possibility to address this need would be to investigate collaboratively funding staff position(s) to meet this need throughout the state.

Action 3.2. Encourage state agencies and organizations serving landowners to recognize and support the conservation value of working landscapes (i.e., farm and forest land).

Working lands can provide significant value to fish and wildlife habitat, but this can be difficult to recognize and difficult to fund. Land zoning regulations and the “transfer of development rights” process can be confusing. State programs should work together to increase the options available for landowners to fund conservation and restoration actions, while maintaining all or part of the property as a working landscape.

Assist landowners in finding ways to generate revenue for implementing conservation actions, such as encouraging counties and municipalities to offer habitat tax deferral programs. Encourage creative new ways to value ecosystem services. A broader recognition of the conservation value provided by working landscapes could result in expanded grant programs or other support for landowners.