As natural resource professionals we are so concerned with making landowners care about the things that we know are important—species habitat, water quality, biodiversity, resilient woods, and even climate change. Of course we translate these goals into landowner-friendly terms—like habitat for wildlife and clean water. But what do you do when landowners simply don’t care enough about ecological and environmental benefits to take the actions that you’re recommending?
One answer is to explicitly connect ecological benefits to lifestyle or financial benefits that they do care about. For example, landowners may not care about wildlife habitat in general, but they may want larger, healthier deer during hunting season. Or they may not care about water quality per se, but being able to fish in their streams might be important to them.
Sometimes the reason why people take action may have nothing to do with the ecological benefits of that action. For example, a landowner may choose to implement certain innovative practices because it positions them as a leader in their community. Or, they may implement a practice simply because that gets them a tax break. That’s OK. Not ideal, but OK.
In the example shown below, the folks over at the Mianus River Gorge, Inc. know that their audience–wealthy, suburban families–care more about having a beautiful yard than they do about the health of the watershed. Rather than try to get their landowners to care about water quality, they just decided to follow their landowners’ motivations.
Never lose sight of the first principle of TELE—Focus on the action. Worrying about how you’ll get landowners to care about your issue is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. Let the action in question drive your thinking. Set your own preferences and prejudices aside to find and use the best lever to initiate behavior change in your audience.
(Image provided courtesy of Mianus River Gorge, Inc., whose mission is to preserve, protect and promote appreciation of the natural heritage of the Mianus River watershed through land acquisition and conservation, scientific research and public education throughout the region. Buffers for Beauty was conceived of, designed by, and is shared by Mianus River Gorge, Inc.)