ABSTRACT Woodlots provide important environmental benefits in the Midwestern (USA) landscape, where they are undergoing rapid change. An increasingly diverse farm and non-farm population owns these non-industrial private forests (NIPFs). It is essential to understand what motivates NIPF landowners to retain and manage their forests. We describe a study of NIPF owners in an agricultural watershed where forest cover is increasing. What motivations and management practices might be contributing to this increase? The results of a survey of 112 NIPF owners suggest that aesthetic appreciation is the strongest motivator for retaining woodlots, especially by non-farmers. Protecting the environment also seems to be important for both farmers and non-farmers, while economic motivations are significantly less important. Landowners indicated that they are primarily taking a “hands-off” approach to management. This study provides insights for those interested in understanding NIPF landowners’ motivations and for developing effective programs.