Outreach to limited resource forest landowners: creating extension materials for low literacy audiences

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Master of Natural Resources Professional Papers (North Carolina State University. College of Natural Resources)

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North Carolina State University. College of Natural Resources


Existing forestry extension and educational materials provided by public agencies in the southeastern United States generally require forestry knowledge and are written at a reading level above the average literacy level in many rural counties. The Sustainable Woodlands project at North Carolina State University has assumed, based on extensive consultation, that existing publications are formatted in ways that are less reader friendly and are likely to frustrate low literacy readers due to small font size and few illustrations. This research project 1) analyzed reading levels of existing forestry outreach materials available in the southeast; 2) developed new outreach materials that better meet the literacy needs of the target audience; and to 3) evaluated the new forestry outreach materials for content, style, and reading level (appropriate to audience) through conducting qualitative interviewing with landowners and state agency personnel. The publications that were developed start from basics, are written in nontechnical language, and have many illustrations that are closely related to the text and relevant to the intended audience. The literacy of outreach materials was analyzed using three literacy indices: FOG Index, and the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Analyses (tools that accompany Microsoft Word software). All three techniques lead to essentially the same conclusion: existing forestry extension materials are generally not written at a level appropriate for the majority of people in the study counties. New forestry outreach materials were developed to better meet the educational needs of a limited resource, low literacy audience by following guidelines compiled from various sources and seeking input from reviewers. The first four publications are brief, highly focused materials that provide basic technical knowledge that landowners need to communicate with agency personnel as well as public and private assistance foresters. The first set of publications, entitled Woods Wise, provides detailed step-by-step information for example, the points that might be covered by an extension agent in a meeting with a landowner. The language is appropriate for someone reading at the fourth to sixth grade level. In contrast, the second set of publications, called Tree Tips, is brief fact sheets. All points are explained in short sentences and are illustrated with line drawings, directing landowners towards the next steps and providing further sources of information. Qualitative interviews were conducted with agency personnel and landowners to evaluate the new forestry outreach publications. In general respondents found the new publications easy to read, suggesting a font of 14 or higher and to focus for additional publications on hunting leases, pine straw production, and recreation. The evaluation of current materials provides useful guidelines for development of new materials. These new materials should be specially tailored for these audiences, and include topics such as heir property issues, sources of financial or technical assistance, timber marketing and environmental and wildlife issues. Much of the forestry information available online covers these topics, with the exception of heir property issues. Thus, one feasible approach to developing new publications is simply to revise existing materials. Limited resource and traditionally-underserved landowners are not as likely as other non-industrial private forest landowners to take part in extension and other educational programs. Research and literature reviews have shown that this audience prefers some type of face-to-face contact. Materials written at an appropriate reading level can complement this face-to-face contact. In order for extension staff to be more proactive in reaching this audience, agency personnel may need to tap the social capital found in the form of “breakfast clubs” and other groups that frequent restaurants and other venues in small towns, as well as examine the successes of the health and nutrition programs in reaching this audience.



low literacy, forestry extension, limited resource landowner