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Parcelization of Penn's Woods

Parcelization is a recognized threat to Pennsylvania’s working forests and to the economic, social, and ecological values they provide to people – both owners and the general public.

Funding source: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry

The Commonwealth, according to the Brookings Report (2003), leads the nation in the parcelization of land as nearly 400 acres of forest and agriculture are lost to development on a daily basis. This is a particularly difficult issue to address given the relatively flat level of growth the state has experienced since 1970 and the large-scale hollowing out of Pennsylvania's core central cities and boroughs.

To address the parcelization of our landscape, it is essential we develop a better understanding of the decision processes landowners undertake when they decide to dispose of their lands. There has been much speculation that this process is tied to the need to pay estate taxes, or to meet unforeseen financial exigencies (health care, education, major purchases, etc.). However, most of this work is based on anecdotal evidence and is speculative in nature. What is needed is better understand forest landowner reasons for such parcelization decisions.

To address this objective, we use ownership records to contact landowners who transferred land. Doing this enabled us to better understand reasons behind their decisions. When the landowner was not available (incapacity, death, migration from the state) we sought information from the estate executor or heirs. Face-to-face phenomological and semi-structured interview guides were used to gather this information.

These interviews provide invaluable insight into the thought processes behind decisions to divest forest land. This includes whether landowners:

  • considered keeping their holdings in forests
  • were concerned about the loss of forest ecosystem values
  • thought about parcelization's effect on the natural and social systems of the area
  • considered ways to protect and conserve forests

It is our intention to conduct sufficient interviews in purposefully selected counties to frame an understanding of landowner concerns and approaches toward the longer-term stewardship of their forested land. Each of the counties studied will be characterized by rapid land conversion and parcelization. In each site, we will conduct additional interviews with landowners and local leaders about the impacts of parcelization. These interviews will explore the full range of stakeholder identified approaches for addressing parcelization issues where they live.

Using data drawn from the face-to-face surveys, coupled to the GIS-driven pressure point analysis and study of the macro-county level shifts, we will design a PFL household survey. Our sample will be purposively directed to:

  • areas undergoing rapid parcelization
  • places where local efforts to address parcelization are in place
  • places where little apparent effort has been expended to address parcelization concerns

Analysis of this data will facilitate the development of regional perspectives on development impacts and potential solutions.

Knowledge of this information is central to creating policies designed to assist Pennsylvania's private forest landowners manage their land through multiple generations. In addition, the data generated from this project will inform state, regional, and local land use policies designed to conserve working forests and their economic, ecologic, and social values.

More Information

Pennsylvania's Forests 2004 report