Peer Connection for Better Land Management

Cassidy Dellorto-Blackwell

May 31, 2018


Increased fragmentation and spread of invasive species threaten Hawaii’s unique landscape. To combat these issues, the Hawaii Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) team has developed a peer learning program that highlights the experiences of landowners currently using active land management strategies to engage new landowners in management.


  • New landowners are unfamiliar with the landscape and unable to identify native vs. non-native plants
  • CREP incentives are reimbursement-based, requiring a high level of motivation and commitment from the landowner


  • Develop opportunities for landowners to learn from each other and learn about the land
  • Create open dialogues for neighbors to clarify the process of enrollment in CREP
  • Provide targeted informational case studies to help landowners see benefits and impacts of program involvement, drawing parallels to their own situation



Created in 2009, the Hawaii Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a federal-state partnership between Hawaii’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The program provides financial and technical assistance for landowners to develop and implement land management plans with a focus on removing invasive species and planting native forest riparian buffers to reduce sedimentation on sensitive coral reef.

To increase program enrollment, the CREP team decided to take a new outreach approach. Following a TELE workshop in 2015, they developed a peer learning program, recruiting CREP early-adopters to serve as peer leaders. Their program uses peer-led workshops, site visits, and informational case studies all directed at new landowners. These tools give landowners a chance to see projects first-hand and learn about the process of using CREP funds from their neighbors who have real-life experience with the program.

What do they want landowners to do?

Hawaii CREP’s goal is to support the implementation of management practices on 150,000 acres of program-eligible lands through reimbursement payments to landowners. To achieve this, individual landowners must take several steps to enroll in the program, consult with technical professionals, and begin project implementation before receiving funds to offset the associated costs. This high level of commitment requires an outreach approach that creates interest while showing how barriers can be reduced and benefits enhanced. The first step in this approach is getting new landowners to come to workshops and site visits led by their peers and neighbors.

Who is the primary target audience?

As many larger parcels are subdivided and sold, targeting outreach to new small parcel landowners is a good way to engage these individuals in land management early on. These landowners tend to own 5-10 acres, are generally new to Hawaii, and may not live in the area year-round.

What are these landowners like?

Since these landowners tend to be new, they often don’t know what is native and what isn’t—but they are eager to learn. They bought land in Hawaii because they were drawn by the beauty of the landscape; and they have a desire to discover the unique characteristics of their new home. They have values aligned with Woodland Retreat owners and can be motivated to embrace their role as land stewards if given the necessary resources and knowledge.

What message will get them to act?

To get landowners to attend workshops, the CREP team focused on using the opportunity to learn more about the landscape and their neighbors as a motivator. At the workshops the message centered on highlighting how CREP can help individuals access resources to improve the health of their land to meet their own personal goals.

How can these landowners be reached?

The CREP team has advertised workshops through a variety of channels: Facebook, newspapers, neighborhood boards, and recruitment by peer leaders to their neighbors. After each workshop, participants are given an informational case study detailing the specific steps a landowner has taken using CREP assistance. Each case study illustrates how CREP assistance can be individualized to meet personal management goals. These materials include contact information for the person who implemented the project as well as the agencies providing assistance—encouraging the recipients to follow up with both peers and agency staff.


TIP: A major benefit of using peer leaders to host workshops is that they create a comfortable, relatable environment. This can help to reduce the anticipated anxiety of dealing with government bureaucracy. By guiding neighbors through their own experience, the peer leaders demystify the process, explaining both the challenges and rewards of involvement.


Evaluation and Adaptation

With a large acreage goal on the land and a long time horizon for project implementation, the CREP team uses a combination of measures for evaluation. Attendance at workshops has remained high, averaging 27 individuals per workshop and five workshops annually—resulting in 1,000 acres under active management. Follow-up surveys and consultations with workshop attendees help staff gauge landowner intentions to determine if an individual is likely to complete the CREP process. This has helped staff allocate their time and resources to maximize on the ground capacity. While there is still a long way to go to meet the 150,000 acre goal, ongoing commitment and enthusiasm from peer leaders and program participants provide the gateway to positive landscape change, signaling that small acreage actions can lead to big acreage impacts.

Photos  provided by Hawaii’s Department of Forestry and Wildlife

Download a pdf of the case study