Aldo Leopold, the father of modern conservation theory, believed that land stewardship was rooted in ethics.
The land ethic “enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, animals, or collectively: the land.”
As humans, we are not separate from one another.
We are part of and depend on the natural community, and must develop an ethic of care for the community as a whole.
Land stewardship is part of this greater idea.
It is the best gift that you can give to present and future generations.
In this blog, we’ll discuss what land stewardship is, the core ideas behind it, and how you can practice its principles.
1. What is land stewardship?
Land stewardship is the conservation of your property’s natural resources.
Land stewardship can seem contradictory because the motives behind it are both selfish and altruistic.
As a landowner, you want to continue to reap the rewards of your land for years to come.
These rewards may include quality farm products, high-value timber, songbirds throughout the year, successful hunts, peace and solitude, or a great view just to name a view.
That said, while stewardship motives have this selfish motive behind them, they are also altruistic.
You want to be a good neighbor (a good steward) of the land who is concerned for the soil, water, air, and biodiversity.
You want the land to be there for your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
2. Where did the concept of land stewardship originate?
The concept of land stewardship is closely connected to the term “land ethic” coined by American environmentalist, Aldo Leopold.
“Land ethic” is considered a theoretical and philosophical framework that has its roots in American environmentalism.
However, land stewardship is a movement slowly gaining traction in European countries as well.
In fact, in Spain, it has even gained legal recognition.
Furthermore, while there are few works written specifically on land stewardship, the concert is embedded implicitly and explicitly in the writings of several environmentalists.
In addition to Aldo Leopold, poet and essayist Wendell Berry is one of the foremost contemporary spokespersons for the stewardship of the land.
He shares his perspective on caring for the land and the necessity of stewardship in his books, Farming: A Handbook (1970), The Unsettling of America (1977), The Gift of Good Land (1981), and Home Economics (1987).
Berry also finds a mandate for good stewardship in religious traditions (i.e., Judaism and Christianity).
However, he does not leave stewardship to divine intervention.
It is not even entirely up to farmers, but every single individual.
He says that when we lose the skill to use the land properly, we lose stewardship.
3. What are Wendell Berry’s seven rules of land stewardship?
Berry outlines seven rules of “living right.”
Using the land will lead to the ruin of the land unless it “is properly cared for”
If people do not know the land intimately, they cannot care for it properly
Motivation to care for the land cannot be provided by “general principles or by incentives that are merely economic”
Motivation to care for the land, to live with it, stems from an interest in that land that is “direct, dependable, and permanent”
Motivation to care for the land stems from an expectation that people will spend their entire lives on the land, and even more so if they expect their children and grandchildren to also spend their entire lives on the same land
The ability to live carefully on the land is limited (for example, owning too much acreage decreases the quality of attention needed to care for the land)
A nation will destroy its land and therefore itself if it doesn’t foster rural households and communities that maintain people on the land as outlined in the first six rules
4. What are the building blocks of land stewardship?
Good land stewardship requires basic building blocks.
These basic building blocks create healthy ecosystems and ensure they are cared for.
Here are the building blocks you should note as you learn more about land stewardship:
Healthy soil: The foundation of our plants whether they’re located in natural communities, tree farms, or crops
Clean water and air: Necessary for all living organisms
Biological diversity: The variety or diversity of living organisms, which has been threatened over the last 500 years as many organisms have become extinct or extirpated because of human activities
5. What does land stewardship actually involve?
Land stewardship involves maintaining soils, native vegetation, and water bodies, so they’re in their healthiest forms.
This benefits wildlife, their habitats, and the humans who live off the land.
Land stewardship varies depending on the individual.
For example, ranchers achieve land stewardship by strategically grazing their cattle and other livestock to maintain perennial natural vegetation and habitat.
They also closely manage their stocking density as grazing duration and frequency can produce multiple benefits for the land.
Farmers, on the other hand, perform stewardship in a different way.
They use cover crops in between growing seasons and reduce tillage to protect soils.
They may also establish buffers near streams to lessen soil erosion into stream segments and create useable space for wildlife.
Additionally, landowners who don’t farm or ranch can help prevent land fragmentation and conversion as well.
This is done through:
supplemental water sources for livestock and wildlife.
6. Does private land stewardship have public land benefits?
Yes, this is critical to keep in mind.
Even when private land managers and landowners perform stewardship, it benefits the community overall.
Here are some of the positive impacts that can be seen:
Sustainable drinking water supplies
Clean waterways that can be used for recreation and fishing
Game species for hunting
Non-game wildlife for recreational viewing
Open space for hiking and recreation
Carbon management and sequestration
Protection from noise pollution and light pollution
More often than not, private landowners and land managers are responsible for managing and stewarding the watersheds for rivers, the habitats our wildlife populations need to survive, and the agricultural lands that greatly impact food security.
Thus, land stewardship isn’t just up to the government or public land management.
Everyone must pull together to collectively care for the planet.
7. What are the guiding principles of environmental sustainability?
Above, we’ve discussed Berry’s seven rules of land stewardship.
However, we’re going to get more specific and discuss the four guiding principles of environmental sustainability.
By keeping these principles in mind, we can help to make stewardship a priority.
Principle #1: Caring for the system as a whole
When you adopt an ecosystem, you should care for the whole system through holistic resource management.
- understanding the fundamental roles and values of natural systems
- building up biological fertility in the soil
- incorporating an understanding of the ecological cycles on the landscape (such as water, energy, nutrients, etc.)
- building knowledge of how land-use practices can either benefit, be in harmony, or negatively impact ecological cycles, other land-users, and flora/fauna.
Principle #2: Conserving resources
Aim to maximize efficiency and strive to reduce the consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources.
This highlights long-term optimization versus short-term maximization of production.
Principle #3: Maintaining and enhancing stability in nature
This principle focuses on sustaining and encouraging natural biological diversity and complexity.
You can do this by maintaining natural areas and functions on the land (i.e., wildlife habitat conservation).
Principle #4: Applying cultural values
There is a link between civilization (urbanization) and the land base and ecosystems that are vital to survival.
When you focus on caring for the health of the land for future generations and long-term economic stability, you tap into cultural values such as the right of all life to exist on Earth.
8. What are some other principles and tips that can help landowners and land managers?
Small changes over time help stewardship to progress.
This means that the more stewardship principles that you can incorporate into your daily life while caring for your land really do make a difference.
To help you become better stewards, we recommend the following tips.
When making any land-use-related decisions, try to maintain and enhance the remaining natural communities of the landscape (wooded areas, ponds, streams, shelterbelts, native grasslands, aspen parklands, etc.).
Focus on restoring and maintaining water quality, improving livestock management practices, and keeping natural vegetation alongside rivers, creeks, streams, and other water bodies.
Learn about and use existing and emerging knowledge of land and resource use practices. These techniques can help you to maintain biodiversity and mimic natural processes on the landscape.
Use the wide variety of resources and programs available to monitor and assess the environmental sustainability of your land-uses (home energy audits, on-farm environmental risk assessments, holistic resource planning, etc.).
Set goals to restore and maintain at least 10 percent of your land in its natural state.
Develop plans and adopt practices that help to reduce the consumption of resources (specifically non-renewable resources).
Try to mimic natural, continuous cycles of reuse and renewal of all the resources on your land and in your landscape.
Work toward setting quality of life goals for your family, business, and community (these goals shouldn’t be measured by money or possessions).
9. How do you incorporate land stewardship into your planning process?
Land stewardship is closely associated with creating and carrying out a good habitat management plan.
To write a good management plan, you should:
Identify the soils, topography, native plants, animals, habitats, and waterways that occur on your property
Try to understand the relationship between these natural features
Talk to neighbors and land experts to aid your own understanding
Develop a plan that focuses on maintaining the long-term health of your land (this plan should be created in the context of surrounding lands)
Implement your management plan and monitor its progress
If you identify any problems, you should apply changes as soon as possible to make it more successful
10. What are some examples of land stewardship projects?
This is a land trust located in Sonoma Country in California.
Its mission is to take care of the land of Sonoma County and protect its beauty and vitality.
Their goal is to conserve the natural area and protect its biodiversity and wildlife.
They say that “land is the heart of the community” and that having a healthy environment promotes a healthy community.
Some of the ways they’re active in the community are by making land accessible, helping local farmers, and reaching out to schoolchildren to increase their knowledge of sustainable land practices.
They also encourage volunteer participation.
While Sonoma Land Trust is a private organization, it aims to protect nature from unsustainable economic exploitation, create benefits that are freely accessible to the entire community, and offer people the experience of working with nature.
The Land Stewardship Project of Canada
The Land Stewardship Centre is another private, non-profit organization that is dedicated to stewarding farmland.
It promotes sustainable agriculture and the development of sustainable communities.
This project recognizes that land stewardship is not just about ecological conservation; it is also about land access, agriculture, and communities.
Effective land stewardship helps to maintain and restore the function of natural resources such as air, land, water, and biodiversity.
We rely on the Earth to provide these resources, so we can produce the goods and services that we depend on.
As a landowner, you should put land stewardship at the top of your priority list so both you and generations to come can enjoy a functioning environment.
Additional ResourcesIf you are looking to buy affordable land, you can check out our Listings page. And before you buy land, make sure you check out Gokce Land Due Diligence Program. If you are looking to sell land, visit our page on how to Sell Your Land.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.