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Agencies and organizations deploy various strategies in response to environmental challenges, including the formulation of policy, programs, and regulations. Citizen-based environmental stewardship is increasingly seen as an innovative and important approach to improving and conserving landscape health. A new research focus on the stewardship of urban natural resources is being launched by the U.S. Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest region. Early scoping efforts are addressing various scales of human systems ranging from individuals to organizations to the entire positive “footprint” of stewardship on the land. This report addresses a fundamental need—to understand and describe civic environmental stewardship in urban settings. Stewardship has been described and defined in diverse ways within a variety of contexts, including the philosophical literature of environmentalism, agency program descriptions, and outreach by sponsoring organizations. Constructing a framework to convey the layered meanings of stewardship will help to focus and guide future research. A cognitive mapping technique was used to elicit responses to the question “What is environmental stewardship?” Semistructured interviews were conducted with representatives of nine Seattle environmental organizations, a group of practitioners who collectively represent over 100 years of experience in the field. Program planners and managers have particularly direct experiences of stewardship. Cognitive mapping enables participants to explore, then display, their particular knowledge and perceptions about an idea or activity. Analysis generated thematic, structural representations of shared concepts. Results show that the practitioners have multilayered perceptions of stewardship, from environmental improvement to community building, and from actions to outcomes. The resulting conceptual framework demonstrates the full extent of stewardship activity and meaning, which can aid stewardship sponsors to improve stewardship programs, leading to better experiences for participants and higher quality outcomes for projects and environments.

Recommended Citation

Romolini, M., Brinkley, W., & Wolf, K. (2012). What is Urban Environmental Stewardship? Constructing a Practitioner-Derived Framework. USDA Forest Service Research Note (PNW-RN-566). Seattle, WA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.