Understanding Management Decisions of Absentee Landowners: More Than Just Presence-Absence
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2017 The Society for Range Management Ownership and management of North American rangelands has become increasingly diverse, prompting a need to better understand how changing demographics and values relate to individual land management decisions and land cover. Absentee landowners, who reside away from their rural property, are a growing segment of this changing social landscape. The implications of absentee ownership are not clearly understood, perhaps because the absentee concept is ambiguously defined and inconsistently specified. We introduce the construct of involvement with one's land to clarify and reframe the absentee landowner concept. We analyzed data from a mail survey of rangeland owners in central Texas to explore the relationship between absentee land ownership and the use of brush management to restore woody-plant invaded grasslands. We employed an information-theoretic approach to compare candidate models using indicators of absenteeism (permanent residence on land and distance of permanent residence from land) and involvement. We measured involvement with one's land as hours per week operating or working one's land. We conducted path analysis to examine the relationship between absenteeism and brush management as a function of involvement. Involvement in land management was the best predictor of brush management behavior. Absenteeism, as measured through presence-absence or as distance from land, had no relationship with brush management unless mediated by the involvement construct. Segmenting landowners based solely on the location of their full-time residence provides little information on brush management behavior because it neglects the relationship that landowners may have with their land, regardless of residency. The absentee landowner concept is central to understanding the dynamics of rangeland management and important to get right. Our analysis suggests that getting it right means knowing more than the location of the residence of the landowner.