Rural landscapes are increasingly diverse and heterogeneous, involving a mix of small and large parcels, amenity and agricultural properties, and resident and absentee owners. Managing invasive plants in landscapes with changing ownership requires understanding the views and practices of different landowners. We surveyed landowners in two rural valleys with 26% absentee ownership and a large number of small parcels in Missoula County, Montana. Landowners indicated a high level of awareness and concern about weeds; more than 80% agreed that weeds are a problem in their valley. Seventy-eight percent of landowners managed weeds, but only 63% were effective at weed management. Absentee owners were far less likely to manage weeds on their properties and less likely to utilize herbicides, as compared with resident landowners. Landowners reported that seeds coming from adjacent properties were the most significant barrier to effective weed control. Many landowners manage weeds to be a good neighbor and believe that cooperation between neighbors is critical to weed management.
Management Implications: Most rural areas have a diversity of landowners with a range of parcel sizes and management goals. Many of these landscapes are experiencing an influx of amenity migrants and absentee landowners, increasing the number of landowners responsible for weed management. Weed managers and extension agents can benefit from a better understanding of the views and practices of these landowners so that they can develop programs to meet landowner needs. Based on a survey of rural landowners in western Montana, we recommend that in landscapes with a diversity of landowners, practitioners emphasize a range of weed management approaches (from herbicides to biocontrols) and benefits (from wildlife habitat to scenic beauty). In particular, landowners who are concerned about the safety of herbicides might need information on alternative methods. Because absentee landowners are less likely to manage weeds, managers need to find ways to engage these landowners in weed management. Effectively engaging absentee landowners might require innovative communication strategies that involve neighbors, emails, and real estate agents. Further, because seeds coming in from neighboring properties are often seen as a major barrier to effective weed management, engaging a broad range of landowners, including absentee landowners, is critical. Weed managers, extension agents, and community groups can organize landowners and small groups of neighbors to share information, resources, and labor, and build social norms about appropriate weed management.