Invasion, Cost-share, and Private Landowners: Resolving the Challenges of Scale with Managing Juniperus Virginiana on Nebraska's Rangelands

With the rise of globalization, the spread of invasive species has become increasingly prevalent and problematic. A characteristic of many biological invasions is a period of rapid population growth following introduction; management and control is most likely to be successful if it occurs prior to that period of rapid growth. By its scientific name, Juniperus virginiana or commonly known as Eastern Redcedar (ERC) is a woody species currently invading the Great Plains of the USA. Although it is native to Nebraska, it is spreading into grasslands and rangelands where it was not historically present and has the potential to seriously disrupt the local economy, including cattle production. Cedar can be controlled via regular burning to grasslands, which removes woody brush and revitalizes native grasses, however, public opinion of prescribed fire is uncertain.

Because so much of Nebraska is privately owned, it is critical that the public understands the seriousness of the ecological and economic costs of cedar invasion, and the importance of properly managing both private and public lands. Cost-share programs provide funding that offsets the cost of and provides technical assistance for management which improves the environment, and engaging landowners educates them on local ecological issues and solutions, potentially educating their friends and neighbors, too. Joining a cost-share program is voluntary, so to increase participation, much research has been done to determine which incentives are preferred by the majority of landowners. Although these studies have discussed the social aspect of cost-share, they overlook the ramifications of structuring a program based on landowner preferences rather than ecological science. If cost-share management is at a smaller scale than ERC invasion, management will not be successful in the long run.

Goals

The purpose of this study is to understand the perceptions of Nebraskan landowners in regards to ERC and ERC management, and the ways participation-based incentives influence the scale of management of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission cost-share programs which remove ERC, to identify where these programs are succeeding at their conservation goals and where improvements can be made.

Current Status

In November of 2017, surveys were distributed to 2,262 people who owned land in rural Nebraska, asking questions about the perception of Eastern Redcedar and prescribed fire management. Data collection was completed in January 2018 and analysis and write-up is currently underway. Results show that landowners prefer smaller scales of management, even given cost-share program incentives that cover the entire monetary cost, and the amount of land that is preferred to be managed is more influenced by restrictions to land use before, during, and after management. Analysis and write-up of data from the 2015-2016 NASIS survey and the 2016 Fire Chief survey is also in progress. Results from these surveys show that cedar is seen as a problem by more landowners in the central areas of the state rather than the east or west, and that fire departments in Nebraska agree more with using prescribed fire for range management than for livestock production, even though the two are directly linked.

Principal Investigator(s)
-Craig R. Allen, NECFWRU
-Dirac Twidsell, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Graduate Student(s)
-Brittany Dueker, M.S.


Project Duration
August 2016-May 2018

Funding
-Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

Project Location
Statewide Nebraska