Our Texas Longleaf Implementation team assists landowners with the restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem to its historic range in east Texas. We connect owners to funding programs and agency professionals that provide expertise with land management. One of our challenges is finding owners that want help with money or technical assistance.
More than 75,000 persons own timberland in east Texas. Many are unaware of the land conservation services available from agencies and organizations. Our longleaf team uses a variety of outreach methods to connect owners to conservation professionals for longleaf restoration assistance and recently launched a campaign on social media to target a search for east Texas landowners.
We approached the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute for help with a Facebook ad campaign. We were offered $8,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bill Bartush though an existing communications agreement they had with Texas A&M NRI. Bill has since retired from FWS but continues to work with our team through his new employer, the American Bird Conservancy and the Lower Mississippi River Joint Venture. We liked the idea of starting with a small social media campaign to test its utility for answering some of our outreach goals.
The Texas A&M NRI communications specialist, Brittany Wegner, and our longleaf team developed an attractive ad and a simple form that would be offered to the targeted viewers that click into the ad. The intent was to reach persons between the ages of 21 and 65+ who own land in the historic range of longleaf in east Texas. The ad’s response form lets them request specific help regarding longleaf, cost share programs, and offers free agency services such as Forest Stewardship plans or wildlife management plans. Based on estimated time spent by owners on Facebook throughout the week, we could potentially reach several hundred individuals per day!
In the first three-week period, we received 16 leads. Over half of the responses were east Texas owners but with lands outside of our longleaf range. We have been told to expect the ad program to optimize the outreach over time, with a more refined geographic reach as it matures. Four leads came from within the NRCS Longleaf Initiative counties and two were from secondary counties. All leads, regardless of county, are being acted on by referral to Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and NRCS, as appropriate. I am reaching out to those leads inside our core geography. My assessment so far is that these leads are well vetted through our Facebook ad response process. To request our assistance from the Facebook ad, they answer key questions developed to give us a lead from a bona fide landowner with management questions. We also have found that in reviewing the Facebook ad, some owners skipped to our txlongleaf.org website and completed the contact form requesting assistance. Regardless of path, we have increased connection to owners interested in longleaf as an outcome of the Facebook ad campaign.
One respondent was a gentleman with acreage in our targeted geography. In the past, he has not been too engaged with the local forestry community but responded to the Facebook ad and completed the assistance request. He was in the process of cutting timber and reached out to learn about the next steps. The tract has some longleaf in need of management. He welcomed the offer for a site visit from me and the Texas A&M Forest Service to begin the management options conversation.
The following link takes you to a blog post from Texas A&M NRI:
I think that Facebook and other social media still take a back seat to strength in messaging face to face with peers. Reaching neighbors with positive information continues will draw others into the work of restoring native forests, improving wildlife habitat, and developing community support for prescribed burning. Feel free to refer friends and neighbors to the txlongleaf.org website where they will learn more about how agencies and organizations are assisting landowners in the work. Be sure to direct them to the website contact page and the form to request a response back from the team or me. Thank you for all you do to restore the native forests to east Texas!