Cutting firewood in January

Promoting Voluntary BMPs on Private Land

By Nate Chotlos, Katy Thostenson and Alanna Koshollek

Best Management Practices (BMPs) are critical for reducing forestry related water pollution. While land managers must use these guidelines on public forestland, the practices are not mandatory on many private lands in Wisconsin, leaving it up to natural resource professionals to encourage landowners to adopt them voluntarily. A 2015 study of BMPs in California suggests that under certain conditions, private landowners are more likely to incorporate voluntary practices into their management.

Specifically, the authors found that landowners who are already addressing a mandatory regulation (such as completing BMPs for a timber harvest on part of their land) are more likely to voluntarily implement BMPs on other parts of their land. Most importantly, the study demonstrated how small tweaks to how we discuss BMPs with landowners may encourage more sustainable forestry on private lands here in the Midwest, without increasing policy regulations.

The study identified three key insights to motivate landowners to voluntarily implement BMPs.

  1. The BMP must benefit the landowner personally. Professionals should highlight the many ways a particular BMP will benefit both the landowner personally, as well as the environment. For example, making road improvements could reduce long-term maintenance costs for the landowner.
  2. The resources needed to implement the BMP must be available to the landowner. For practices that require a large financial investment, professionals should make sure that landowners are aware of opportunities to offset the costs or reduce their portion of the costs. In other situations, the necessary resource may be the landowner having the right knowledge of the steps they need to take to implement a particular BMP. For example, the study found that landowners who were completing a mandatory regulation increased their awareness and knowledge of BMPs, which they then applied voluntarily to other areas of their land.
  3. A trusted professional who facilitates open communication and knowledge exchange with the landowner plays an important role. The study found that a trusted professional becomes more influential when they first listen to the landowner’s thoughts, such that the landowner feels like any BMP recommendations came out of a collaboration between them and the professional, rather from the top-down.

In addition, landowners trust professionals who show “common sense” and know how to tailor management to fit the local area, as well as bring an understanding of the community. Consulting foresters in particular were seen as having landowner’s best interests at heart since they work for the landowner. In California, a registered professional forester (RPF) more easily provided this important role, since they are hired by a landowner conducting a timber sale, yet they are also certified by the state. Professionals working with regulatory agencies may not be trusted at first, but can also build trusting relationships with landowners over time using these techniques to exchange knowledge and open communication with landowners.

Using these simple communication techniques, landowners may be more willing to voluntarily implement practices on their land, resulting in environmental benefits for the whole community.


Short Gianotti, A.G., & Duane, T.P. 2015. Learning to listen: how collaborative dialogue in regulation influences landowner adoption of best management practices on unregulated lands. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 34(2), 320-339.