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Harvard Forest Data Archive


Community and Conservation Survey in Urban, Suburban and Rural Massachusetts 2013-2018

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  • Lead: Anne Short Gianotti, David Kittredge, Lucy Hutyra, Jackie Getson
  • Investigators:
  • Contact: Information Manager
  • Start date: 2013
  • End date: 2018
  • Status: completed
  • Location: Central Massachusetts, Eastern Massachusetts
  • Latitude: +41.2 to +42.9
  • Longitude: -72.6 to -69.9
  • Elevation: 0 to 378 meter
  • Taxa: Homo sapiens (human)
  • Release date: 2017
  • Revisions:
  • EML file: knb-lter-hfr.298.5
  • DOI: digital object identifier
  • EDI: data package
  • DataONE: data package
  • Related links:
  • Study type: short-term measurement
  • Research topic: conservation and management
  • LTER core area: disturbance
  • Keywords: conservation, land use, management, surveys, urban
  • Abstract:

    The dynamics of forest cover and the ecosystem services they provide are shaped by the land use and management decisions of thousands of individual landowners and the land use planning and conservation actions of towns and environmental organizations. Through an interdisciplinary investigation of the land use and forest conservation practices across two urban-to-rural transects between Boston and Central Massachusetts, we investigated the complex and coupled socio-ecological processes that shape the structure, function, and transformation of forested landscapes and how examine these processes may vary along urban-to-rural gradients.

    The survey data archived here is one element of this larger coupled natural-human systems project. The Community and Conservation Survey collected data regarding landowners’ attitudes and management practices on a variety of issues linked to conservation and the use of their own land. The objectives were to collect data that (a) increase our understanding of how landowners’ attitudes and behaviors vary across urban-to-rural gradients and (b) can be coupled with biogeochemical measurements across the study region to model variation in management behaviors.

  • Methods:

    Study Area

    The study area includes towns located along two 100 km transects that stretch westward from Boston, Massachusetts to the central part of the state. Development patterns, land uses, and human communities vary along the study transects. The northern transect forms a somewhat idealized urban-to-rural gradient with development patterns transitioning from urban areas in the east to dense suburbs followed by less dense suburbs and rural areas as one travels west. The southern transect follows a major transportation corridor (I-90) and contains two urban centers, Boston in the east and Worcester (approximately 65 km west of Boston). Development patterns and land use shift between high and low-density suburbs between these two urban centers and quickly transition to more rural characteristics west of Worcester.

    Survey Development and Content

    The Community and Conservation Survey (CCS) is a large, multipart survey instrument designed to collect data about conservation and land management in a variety of development contexts. The survey design was guided by a review of relevant literature, consultation of surveys with similar goals, and three focus groups conducted with landowners in rural, exurban, and suburban/urban towns along the northern study transect. Initial drafts of the survey instrument were pretested at three subsequent focus groups in towns along the northern study transect. The survey questionnaire was revised slightly based on feedback from focus group participants.

    The CCS Survey contains a mix of short answer, multiple choice, dichotomous, Likert response scale, and open-ended questions. Survey questions collect data in six broad areas: (1) property management practices (including particular practices linked to the management of lawns, landscaped areas, and trees), (2) motivations for managing land in particular ways, (3) attitudes towards and use of a number of ecosystems services and recreational activities, (4) attitudes towards and experience with policy tools to promote conservation, (5) parcel characteristics, and (6) respondent demographics.

    Survey Administration

    The survey sample included landowners from 33 towns along the study transects. Five towns along the transects were excluded due to the lack of usable ownership data. Populations in the study towns range from 1,277 in Petersham to 617,594 in Boston (2014 US Census American Community Survey) and fifty-four landowners were selected from each town. The sample was drawn from tax assessor records and stratified by town and parcel size: landowners with less than or equal to 10 acres and landowners with greater than 10 acres. Where possible, 27 landowners were randomly selected from each size category for each town. For towns that had fewer than 27 landowners in one of the size categories, additional landowners were selected from the other category to ensure a total of 54 landowners for each town.

    A total of 1758 surveys were mailed following a modified Tailored Design Method (Dillman 2007). Of the mailed surveys, 114 were returned as undeliverable or disqualified because the respondent was deceased or no longer owned land in Massachusetts. A total of 414 surveys were returned, giving an effective response rate of 25.2%. The relatively low response rate is consistent with recent trends for response rates of natural resource based surveys, which show declining response rates particularly for complex surveys and issues with low saliency (Connelly et al. 2003). Though we did not have the resources to fully assess non-response bias, the response rate did not vary significantly across towns, which gives us confidence in the ability to tease out differences along the urban-rural gradients in our study area.


    Connelly, N.A., Brown, T.L., Decker, D.J., 2003. Factors affecting response rates to natural resources-focused mail surveys: empirical evidence of declining rates over time. Society and Natural Resources. 16 (6), 541–549.

    Dillman, D.A., 2007. Mail and Internet Surveys: The Tailored Design Method. John Wiley and Sons, Hoboken, NJ.

  • Use:

    This dataset is released to the public under Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (No Rights Reserved). Please keep the dataset creators informed of any plans to use the dataset. Consultation with the original investigators is strongly encouraged. Publications and data products that make use of the dataset should include proper acknowledgement.

  • Citation:

    Short Gianotti A, Kittredge D, Hutyra L, Getson J. 2017. Community and Conservation Survey in Urban, Suburban and Rural Massachusetts 2013-2018. Harvard Forest Data Archive: HF298 (v.5). Environmental Data Initiative:

Detailed Metadata

hf298-01: CCS survey data

  • Compression: none
  • Format: csv
  • Type: document

hf298-02: CCS survey guide

  • Compression: none
  • Format: pdf
  • Type: document

hf298-03: CCS survey

  • Compression: none
  • Format: pdf
  • Type: document