America’s Evolving Relationship with Trees: A Statistical Analysis of Social, Economic, and Environmental Drivers of Forest Management

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2021

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Abstract

In the spirit of American individualism, the majority of the United States’ forested landscape is controlled by private landowners, who make autonomous decisions that impact a shared wealth of biodiversity and ecosystem services. It is important to understand not only the forest management decisions made by private landowners, but also the motivations that incentivize these consequential actions. Furthermore, it is useful to have the capacity to infer such insights using publicly available data, and by employing transparent, flexible, and scalable statistical frameworks. This dissertation seeks to elucidate the motivations and actions of private landowners in the United States using a variety of data sources, including Zillow home estimates, the American Community Survey, satellite remote sensing imagery, and the Forest Inventory and Analysis database, and by implementing interpretable modeling frameworks, such as the hedonic pricing method and structural equation modeling. I uncover nuanced insights about human-environmental systems, including (1) a positive feedback loop between affluence and tree-shading in metropolitan areas; (2) the dominance of normative pressures on forest owners’ harvest intentions; and (3) a causal link between invasive insects and the quantity and sizes of harvested trees. Understanding such relationships benefits policymakers, forest managers, and urban planners tasked with optimizing human-natural systems.

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Holt, Jonathan (2021). America’s Evolving Relationship with Trees: A Statistical Analysis of Social, Economic, and Environmental Drivers of Forest Management. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23070.

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