June 2006 // Volume 44 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW4

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Forestry Mini College: A Cost-Effective Way to Educate Non-Industrial Private Forest Landowners

This article describes the forestry mini college (FMC) format as an educational tool that can be used by Extension forestry personnel to cost-effectively deliver research-based forestry information to many private forest landowners. A description of an existing forestry mini college program in Montana provides insight as to the method's effectiveness. Based on that analysis, the FMC format could be used across the country.

Roy C. Anderson
Extension Specialist--Forest Products
Montana State University
Missoula, Montana


The mission of the United States Department of Agriculture is to "provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management" (USDA, 2005). That mission is met, in part, with assistance from the Cooperative Extension system. One program of the Extension system is delivering educational programs targeted to non-industrial private forest landowners (NIPF's).

In Montana, educating NIPF's about forest management is particularly important because they supply a significant portion of the timber consumed by the state's forest products industry. Montana's 80,000 estimated NIPF's own about 20% of the state's 23 million acres of forestland. Between 1996 and 2002, NIPF's supplied about 29.9% (241 million board feet) of the annual timber harvest. During the same time, the federal government supplied 18.6% of the state's annual harvest, despite owning and managing about 64% of the land base (Kolb, 2005).

The forest stewardship program is the centerpiece of Montana's NIPF educational effort. It is a multi-day workshop funded by USDA Forest Service--State and Private Forestry and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The Montana State University (MSU) Extension Forestry office delivers the forest stewardship workshop. In the workshop, landowners learn how to inventory their property's natural resources, identify their land management objectives, and write a forest management plan to meet those objectives. The forest stewardship program was established in 1991, and to date over 1,800 ownerships representing nearly 1,000,000 million acres have participated.

To keep those workshop graduates engaged in forest stewardship, the MSU Extension Forestry Office offers additional educational opportunities that include workshops on silviculture, forest road maintenance, managing riparian areas, wildfire hazard reduction, noxious weed control, timber sale management, windbreak management, and tree insect and disease identification. Each workshop typically attracts between 15 and 25 forest landowners. Because hosting a workshop can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000, Extension personnel need to carefully consider the cost-effectiveness of the educational programs they deliver.

This article focuses on the Forestry Mini College (FMC) format as a method to cost-effectively deliver research-based information to many private forest landowners. In the field of Extension forestry, this educational format is not broadly applied, despite a long and successful track record in Montana and Oregon. Therefore, Extension forestry personnel across the country should find this article important and useful.

The Forestry Mini College Program

In 1990, the MSU Extension Forestry Office implemented FMC, a daylong educational workshop for private forest landowners. It has been an annual event ever since, except for 2000 through 2004. In contrast to the typical single-topic workshop, the FMC format offers 1 to 2 hour-long courses on a variety of forestry topics.

Topics were chosen by a planning committee comprised of forestry professionals from government agencies, the forest products industry, and the university. The process involved an initial brainstorming session to identify a list of all possible FMC topics. During a subsequent session the committee narrowed the broad topic list to those that would be offered. The key criterion used in selecting topics was simply the professional judgment of the planning committee members regarding the educational needs of forest landowners the primary audience. Another factor in the selection process was the popularity of past classes. For example, classes about forest health are always among the most popular. Each course was taught by a local resource professional or an academic.

The 10 courses offered at the 2005 FMC included:

Forest Products Marketing—information about Montana's commonly produced forest products and the economic realities landowners face when marketing those products.

Logging Systems—information about the various types of logging equipment used in Montana and how to identify which type is most appropriate for different properties.

Estate Planning—A difficult decision faced by family forest owners and logging professionals is how to provide for their survivors. This session explored some of the consequences of not planning and shared ideas that have worked for other Montana families.

Wildfire Hazard Reduction—information about how to minimize the chance of wildfire and about cost-sharing programs to help landowners implement what they learned.

Noxious Weed Control—Controlling noxious weeds continues to be a major issue for Montana's forest landowners. This course reviewed a variety of weed control techniques.

Forest Health—Insects—an overview of the major insect pests found in Western Montana forests and information about identifying characteristics, life cycles, extent of current outbreaks, and control recommendations for a variety of insects.

Forest Health—Disease—an overview of common forest diseases in Western Montana with emphasis on the most damaging native diseases in those forests--root diseases and dwarf mistletoes. Disease specimens were available for observation, and participants could bring samples of diseases from their trees for identification.

Forestry Laws in Montana—an overview of forestry laws that apply to Montana's forest landowners.

Enhancing Wildlife Populations—information about how landowners can improve wildlife habitat on their property.

Computers and Forest Planning—This course explained some of the many ways that landowners can use computers to assist in forest stewardship efforts.

Promoting Forestry Mini College

For the 2005 FMC, about 7,000 brochures were printed. These were mailed to all forest stewardship program graduates and other forest landowners who live near Missoula, Montana. The mailing was facilitated by MSU Extension Forestry's private forest landowner database, which contains nearly 35,000 landowner names. This promotional effort attracted 189 FMC participants in 2005, which is a typical turnout for this event. While 189 participants is small relative to the 80,000 estimated forest landowners in Montana, the 2005 FMC participants own approximately 30,000 acres. Thus, the FMC format tends to attract those landowners who own larger parcels.

In addition to forest landowners, the brochure was sent to Montana members of the Society of American Foresters and members of the Montana Logging Association. Members of both groups who attended FMC received continuing education credit.

Forestry Mini College Logistics

The brochure<http://www.forestry.umt.edu/hosting/forestproducts/ForestryMiniCollege.pdf> included a description of each course and a registration section. Each participant mailed the registration form back to the Extension forestry office after he or she had selected which six courses that they wanted to attend from the 10 offered. Allowing participants to select the classes based on their personal interests is a real strength of the FMC format. However, offering that flexibility also makes hosting the FMC more logistically challenging. Therefore, MSU Extension Forestry personnel developed an overall class schedule (Figure 1).

Working from the overall schedule, each participant was assigned an individual schedule (Figure 2) based on his or her chosen classes. Note that in a very low proportion of cases, the combination of classes selected by an individual was not compatible with the overall schedule. In such instances, MSU Extension Forestry Personnel contacted the individual to select alternate classes. Participants picked up their individual schedules and a campus map at a check-in table the morning of the FMC.

Figure 1.
Overall FMC Class Schedule. Note that "JOUR" and "FOR" Denote the Building and Room Number Where Each Class Was Held.

Class schedule

Figure 2.
Example of an Individual Class Schedule Given to Each Participant When He or She Registered. The Acronyms Represent a Course and the Building and Room Number.

An individual's class schedule.

In addition to the classes, information booths were displayed at the event's registration area. Organizations such as the Montana Tree Farm System, Montana Forest Stewardship Foundation, Montana Forest Owners Association, and a number of private companies staffed the booths.

Participant Feedback

Eighty-one of the 189 participants in the 2005 FMC completed a post-workshop evaluation form. The evaluation form was distributed during the pre-workshop check-in and collected at the end of the day. Assuming that those responses are representative of all attendees, one can conclude that about 70% of the participants were forest landowners, 12% professional loggers, and 18% professional foresters.

Anecdotally, the responses overwhelmingly indicated that participants found the program informative and useful. For example, one professional forester said, "the sessions were informative and thought provoking for both the professional and the landowner." Other qualitative comments from landowners were generally along the lines of:

  • "Excellent information presented by talented, knowledgeable speakers --appreciated the handouts, etc. Food was great. Well worth the price and I hope to do the experience again"

  • "This whole series of classes have been very informative and interesting".

To more objectively assess whether FMC helped the foresters, loggers, and landowners become better land managers, participants were asked if the classes were helpful. The average response across all classes offered was 1.55 (on a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 = very helpful and 5 = not helpful). Thus, the post-workshop evaluation data indicates that participants found the FMC format conducive to effective learning.

While there was no follow-up survey to determine if the landowners implemented any of the information learned at the workshop, participants were asked in the post-workshop evaluation whether they planned on implementing things they had learned at the workshop. The average response was 1.20 (on a scale where 1 = definitely yes and 5 = definitely not). Thus, the post-workshop evaluation data indicates that participants overwhelmingly planned on implementing the things they had learned.

While there is a distinct difference between intended behavior and actual behavior, there is a strong relationship between the two (Ajzen, 1991). Thus, an additional conclusion drawn from the evaluation data is that the FMC is an effective vehicle for implementing research-based land management activities among landowners, loggers, and professional foresters.

Forestry Mini College Costs

The ability of Extension personnel to develop and deliver an educational program often depends on the availability of financial resources. For example, although the Forestry Mini College was a successful program from 1990 to 1999, it was not offered between 2000 and 2004.

In early 2004, however, the board of directors of the Montana Forest Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and informing private landowners, met with MSU Extension Forestry personnel and pledged $3,500.00 in seed money to reestablish FMC. MSU Extension Forestry personnel then solicited additional funds from individual forest products companies that operate in Montana. Responses to the solicitation varied, but in general most companies were supportive, especially those that are certified under the principles of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). Figure 3 shows how much money was obtained from registration fees and financial support from companies and forestry organizations. It also breaks down the various expenses associated with FMC. The net positive balance will be used to offer future FMC's.

The cost per landowner contact is the net cost of the FMC workshop ($4768.63) divided by the number of participants (189). This calculation equals $25.23 per landowner contact. That number can be compared with a recent workshop on Timber Sale Management that was offered by MSU Extension Forestry. The Timber Sale Management workshop attracted 22 landowners. The cost of the workshop was $2,223.33. Thus, the Timber Sale Management workshop cost per landowner contact was $101.06.

Figure 3.
Income and Expenses Associated with FMC 2005

Income and Expenses Associated with FMC 2005 with a balance of $6,081.37.


Montana's FMC program is a useful educational tool for keeping the NIPF clientele engaged in forest stewardship because it allows Extension educators to cost-effectively deliver information about an array of forestry topics to a greater number of forest landowners than is possible using a typical workshop format. I am not suggesting that workshops dedicated to a single topic be eliminated. Rather, I am only informing Extension forestry educators that the FMC format is another available tool. To the best of my knowledge, only Oregon and Montana educate private forest landowners using the mini college format. Given the success of both programs, Extension personnel around the country should consider this method for effectively engaging non-industrial private forest landowners.


Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. 50:179-211.

Kolb, P.F. (2005). Family forestland survey. Working Paper. Montana State University Extension Forestry. Missoula, Montana.

USDA (2005). Mission statement. Available at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/