In the southern United States the country's top wood-producing region, factors such as intergenerational land transfer and population spillover from urban areas have resulted in forestland conversion and reduced production of critical ecosystem services associated with forest systems (e.g., timber, clean water supply, wildlife habitat). Public attitudes, which drive forestland policy prescriptions, may also be evolving due to the way people experience and perceive forests (e.g., recreation), and think about the role of government in private forest decisions. These changes have significant implications for forestland management and the forest-based economy, both locally and globally. We present the results of a regional survey (n = 1669) of residents in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, which assessed attitudes toward timber harvesting and government involvement on private lands. We found significant public support for timber harvesting with a somewhat stronger focus on ecosystem maintenance compared to timber production, and strong support for policies that empower landowners (e.g., assistance programs) over regulatory strategies. We conclude that existing government policies and programs are failing to help landowners meet public demand for ecosystem service provision on private forest lands in the southeastern US. Public attitudes appear conducive to innovative policy strategies such as market-based solutions and nudges. Perceptions of forest health will likely be the metric the public and landowners will use in assessing the value of policy alternatives, in addition to economic impact. Public ignorance and indifference towards forest management also appear to be growing.
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