by Steve Nelle

The topic of land stewardship has gained a great deal of public attention during recent years. This is a good trend since it helps focus greater awareness to the importance of how the land is treated, and the people who carry out responsible land care.

However, land stewardship to some extent, has become a catchphrase; feel-good words; frequently used but seldom clearly defined. In some ways, land stewardship is becoming an over-used slogan; thus the need to clarify its true meaning and character.

Genuine land stewardship may be defined as a deeply held inner conviction that motivates landowners and land managers to care for the land. It is the ethic that generates, inspires and guides responsible and sustainable land management. Land stewardship is about who you are on the inside.

The essence of genuine stewardship is the acknowledgement that even though you may legally own title to the land, your role is that of caretaker. The well-being of the land is entrusted to you for a time and you will do your utmost to be a responsible custodian during your tenure. In addition to the personal benefits of land stewardship, genuine stewardship also involves benefits to future generations and benefits to society. Conservation easements are one important tool to help insure these benefits.

Aldo Leopold described an ecological conscience which produces a conviction of responsibility for the health of the land. The land steward has a keen and sensitive conscience toward the land. Their rights as a landowner are subordinated to their self-imposed responsibilities toward the land. Land stewards have a special working relationship to the land which is demonstrated by several qualities:

Knowledge – Land stewards have a working knowledge of the land, including the soil, water, plant and animals. Land stewards may be self taught, or educated, but they are always searching to better comprehend how the land works.

Dedication – Land stewards are strongly committed to the health of the land. It is a full time lifestyle, not a pastime.

Big Picture – land stewards are able to look down the road and consider the long term, wide angle perspective. They look to solve land problems, not merely treat symptoms. They see how their decisions affect other lands and other people.

Realistic – land stewards realize they are working with Nature and therefore do not call all of the shots. They do not try to artificially “improve” the land beyond what its natural capabilities are. They do not look for quick fixes or simple solutions.

Humility – There is a deep inner humility and reverence associated with authentic land stewardship.

Land stewardship is not a warm fuzzy emotion and is not merely a proclamation of how much we love the land. Genuine stewardship manifests itself in concrete skills, abilities and workmanship. Let us all strive to embody the very best stewardship character in ourselves and encourage it within others.