Forest ecosystems play a critical role in protecting water resources; yet the neoclassical stated preference assumption is that willingness-to-pay (WTP) for forest conservation is solely a function of the ecosystem services provided by these lands. Thus, little attention has been paid to the importance of policy processes as potentially influential drivers of WTP. Using a statewide web-based survey in Florida US and a relatively novel valuation approach (i.e., Best-Worst Choice), we examine public preferences for clean water benefits (e.g., recreation, drinking water resources) as well as common conservation policy processes, such as land acquisition and financial assistance for landowners. We found forest/water protection programs provide an annual average of $154-230 million in clean water benefits, and a significant portion of that value was associated with the policy process. Attitudes and beliefs about whom forests should be managed for, and who should manage forests, were also found to influence WTP behaviors. We conclude that including policy process information in the valuation survey allows respondents to better determine changes in utility among realistic policy alternatives. Our findings have important implications for WTP estimation techniques and public participation in environmental policy design.