Landowner perceptions of woody plants and prescribed fire in the Southern Plains, USA. Academic Article uri icon


  • Grassland environments face a number of threats including land use change, changing climate and encroachment of woody plants. In the Southern Plains of the United States, woody plant encroachment threatens traditional agricultural grazing economies in addition to grassland dependent wildlife species. Numerous studies have examined the physical drivers of conversion from grassland to woodland but social drivers may be equally important to understanding the causes of and prescriptions for environmental degradation. In this paper, we report the results of a survey of landowners in the Southern Plains of Texas and Oklahoma in which we asked participants to estimate the current amount of woody plant cover on their land, their preferred amount of woody plant cover and about their perspectives regarding the use of prescribed fire for managing woody plants. Prescribed fire is ecologically and economically one of the most effective tools for maintaining grasslands but many landowners do not use this tool due to lack of knowledge, lack of resources and concerns over safety and legal liability. We found that while most of our respondents did express a desire for less woody plant cover on their land, woody plant preference did not affect landowner's use of prescribed fire. However, belonging to a prescribed burn association and owning larger properties were correlated with increased use of prescribed fire. Woody plant cover preference was significantly influenced by landownership motivations, with hunters and other recreational motivated landowners preferring more trees and ranchers preferring fewer. This is important because throughout most of our study area, there has been a steady shift from agricultural production to amenity or recreational landownership, a trend that may undermine efforts to restore or maintain open grasslands. Future outreach efforts to promote prescribed fire to maintain grasslands should more actively support prescribed burn associations, which is an effective vehicle for increasing prescribed fire use by private landowners.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

author list (cited authors)

  • Stroman, D. A., Kreuter, U. P., & Wonkka, C. L.

citation count

  • 8

complete list of authors

  • Stroman, Dianne A||Kreuter, Urs P||Wonkka, Carissa L

editor list (cited editors)

  • Aguilar, F. X.

publication date

  • January 2020