What is stewardship in this context?
For TSN and our Member Communities, “stewardship” has a specific meaning that sets our activities and our overall role apart from some of the other environmental organizations you know and love. To steward anything is to take care of it and watch over it, accepting and embracing responsibility for its wellbeing and balancing direct intervention with wise, patient guidance. Our collaborative stewardship includes all of the above, in dedicated service of nature. TSN’s place-based collectives tend lovingly with wisdom and perseverance to the ecosystems they call home, doing whatever their local lands and waters need from them to thrive.
Another way to think about it: stewardship is the opposite of neglect. Consider pollution, exploitation, and all the other human actions and choices (be they willfully destructive or tragically ignorant) that corrupt and degrade our planet’s vital systems. Stewardship is diametrically opposed to all of these, consisting of direct, benevolent human actions and choices that heal. We are The Stewardship Network and this is what we’re here to do.
But isn’t that conservation?
Sort of! The meanings and connotations of terms have definitely evolved over the century or so since the conservation movement began, but here’s how we think about things today:
Conservation = Preservation + Stewardship
Motivations have differed historically, but the unifying goals of conservation are healthy nature for nature’s sake and a sustainable habitat for humans to thrive within it. As noted above, achieving these goals requires two equally vital elements:
- Preservation = protecting natural areas or species from harmful human actions
- Stewardship = assisting natural areas or species with helpful human actions
Preservation holds aside land where a useful structure could have been built, stewardship plants trees and makes sure they reach maturity so the sacrifice was not in vain. Preservation declares the monarch butterfly endangered, stewardship plants milkweed so their populations can rebound. They are forever intertwined and we absolutely need both.
So why focus on stewardship?
The people who founded The Stewardship Network had plenty of experience in this space even before the TSN idea came to fruition over twenty years ago. One self-defeating pattern they witnessed over and over was that the stewardship half of conservation was consistently under-celebrated and thus under-funded and under-resourced. Politicians, foundations, agencies, and advocates tended to gravitate towards big moments, funding land purchases or rallying for landmark legislation, but then moving on and hoping it all works out.
Parents will recognize a similar dynamic. It’s relatively easy to get people out to celebrate when your child is born or when they graduate high school. There aren’t nearly enough celebrations in honor of healing a broken bone or learning how to read.
And that’s why we’re here – because conservation without stewardship is an incomplete investment. Our Member Communities monitor the river and clear invasive plant species long after ribbons are cut and press releases are made. Our collaborative stewardship efforts bring balance and better outcomes to the conservation movement at a critical point in the fight for our shared future.
Does stewardship still matter in the absence of preservation?
Is ten minutes of exercise better for you than zero even if twenty minutes was the goal? Heck yes! So tend that private land, tidy that urban square, plant those local wildflowers in your garden, and let’s make the best of every scenario we find out here.