Landowners' management of riparian forest in far North Queensland, Australia: a social psychological perspective

Flick, Brigitta (2013) Landowners' management of riparian forest in far North Queensland, Australia: a social psychological perspective. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The threat to north Queensland's waterways from terrestrial runoff pollutants has been recognised for some time (Brodie, 2002; Brodie, Lewis, Mitchell, Bainbridge, & Waterhouse, 2009; Russell & Hales, 1994; Russell, Hales, & Helmke, 1996; Webb & Erskine, 2003; Werren & Arthington, 2002). It poses a special danger to the survival of the Great Barrier Reef (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, 2001a). Increased nutrient and chemical loads are directly related to clearing of riparian vegetation in the adjacent catchment regions (Brodie et al., 2012; Fabricius, 2005). The present study is a social psychological exploration of the factors that influence landowners’ management of these riparian forests. The theory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991) provided the theoretical, conceptual and analytical framework to investigate the impact of attitudes, subjective norms, perceived impediments, and underlying beliefs on the landowners' intentions and actual practices to manage their riparian areas.

The investigation was conducted in three parts. The first was an open-ended interview study with 11 retired farmers (Study 1) which supplied salient ideas and themes for the formulation of the TPB questionnaire and contained an intervention leaflet to test for a possible priming effect. Most interviewees had positive attitudes toward riparian forests, strong feelings of stewardship, believed the water in their creeks to be pristine, and that help from government agencies should be in the form of financial and technical support. Surprisingly, the majority did not believe that agricultural practices ever threatened the health of the Great Barrier Reef. A brochure with scientific facts about riparian forests presented during the interview as an intervention did not influence most interviewees' beliefs about riparian forest management practices and they felt no need for this kind information. The results were published (Flick, Caltabiano, & Bentrupperbäumer, 2010).

The second part, postal Survey 1 consisted of an extensive questionnaire sent to 540 addresses of landowners with riparian forests (123 returns, 22.7% return rate). The respondents were sugarcane growers (55.3%), tropical fruit growers and cattle graziers (24.4%), and non-farmers (20.3%). Standard and hierarchical regression analyses were used in the investigation of interval data and logistic regression analyses for dichotomous data. The TPB was shown to be an effective model that predicted 52% of variance in intentions to engage in riparian forest management. While direct attitudes were the strongest variable with 28% unique contribution (Beta = .61), direct subjective norms were only significant for younger landowners and those that considered traditional knowledge most relevant. Direct perceived behaviour controls showed a small but significant contribution. The data are comparable to other TPB studies and meta-analyses (Ajzen, 1991; Armitage & Conner, 2001; Beedell & Rehman, 1999, 2000; Fielding, Terry, Masser, Bordia, & Hogg, 2005; Sutton, 1998). Furthermore, the intention construct predicted one behaviour indicator within the TPB model, namely, having newly planted trees on the streamside (24%). The amount explained increased when some external factors were included: the source of knowledge from own experience through trial and error (28.7 to 42.6%), workshop attendance (19.8 to 29.4%), and having learned from workshops (20.5 to 30.3%). The perceived behaviour control variable of needing technical help to bring riparian forest up to scratch was found to be the major factor in explaining the behaviour indicator of reporting a loss of trees on the streamsides, bypassing intentions. It represented an insurmountable impediment to some landowners.

Belief-based attitudes explained 40.4% of the variance in intentions based on beliefs pertaining to the evaluation of riparian benefits and of understanding the environmental importance of riparian forests. Subjective norming beliefs explained 21.4% of variance in intentions based on normative beliefs in the approval by people whose opinion one respects. Perceived control beliefs explained 38.5% of variance based on being able to pay the financial costs and to afford to lose a 10m strip of cropland to a riparian forest.

Survey 1 also found that younger landowners were significantly more likely to have stronger intentions while being motivated by expectations and approval. However, landowners who managed land according to traditional practices handed down had weaker intentions (β = -.16, p = .02) and showed significant norming behaviour. Whatever they and respected others practiced was adequate for them implying that other more reliable sources of knowledge were not considered (Flick et al., 2010; Kraack, 2000). Another finding supports this: almost twice as many attendees of riparian workshops reported to have learned nothing or very little compared to land management workshop attendees. This failure may reflect entrenched beliefs and resistance to new and possibly contradictory information and was also found by Curtis, Byron, and MacKay (2005), Dutcher, Finley, Luloff, and Johnson (2004) and others.

The third part of the research study was the postal Survey 2 sent to 465 addresses. It yielded 75 returns (16.1% return rate). The matched cases of this survey with Survey 1 were too few to find a priming effect. However, qualitative data from the open-ended questionnaire revealed that the majority of respondents agreed with the scientific facts and the aesthetic and ecological values of the riparian forests and perceived considerably fewer impediments to their riparian management.

The research study identified variables that significantly impact landowners' intentions and practices of riparian management. Changes to these variables especially to the beliefs of attitudes, subjective norming and behaviour controls should flow on to generate changes in intention and behaviours. Having knowledge of these beliefs represents a tool for managers and educators when formulating new educational information to engage landowners' cooperation in establishing and managing riparian forests.

Item ID: 32127
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: community attitudes; stewardship; natural resource management; beliefs and practices; riparian forest management
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2014 06:42
FoR Codes: 17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170113 Social and Community Psychology @ 50%
06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9612 Rehabilitation of Degraded Environments > 961204 Rehabilitation of Degraded Fresh, Ground and Surface Water Environments @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9609 Land and Water Management > 960907 Forest and Woodlands Water Management @ 50%
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