Introduction to Nature-Directed Stewardship
“Looking at life from a different perspective makes you realize that it’s not the deer that is crossing the road, rather it’s the road that is crossing the forest.” —Author Unknown
Nature-Directed Stewardship (NDS) is a system of ecosystem protection, maintenance, restoration, and human use. It was developed by the Silva Forest Foundation to protect ecosystem integrity and biodiversity at multiple spatial scales, while providing for Earth-centred human use of ecosystems (Silva Forest Foundation 1997). The first priority in NDS is maintaining (or restoring) natural ecological integrity—including biological diversity—across the full range of spatial (from very large to very small areas) and temporal (from short to long periods of time) scales.
NDS (otherwise known as “ecosystem-based planning”, “ecosystem-based conservation planning”, or “Nature-Directed Stewardshipping”) is widely accepted by scientists and practitioners as the state-of-the-art approach to forest planning and use (Kaufmann et al. 1994). Indeed, NDS has also been successfully applied in many different types of terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems (Price, Roburn, & Mackinnon 2008).
Nature-Directed Stewardship envisions people living as a respectful part of the ecosystems that sustain us. Our plans and actions are inclusive of the needs of all beings, all our relations. In this vision, ecosystems are seen as identities to be respected, not objects to be dominated, wisdom passed down by Indigenous elders and knowledge holders across Canada and elsewhere in the world. What people acquire from this relationship are clean air, pure water, climate moderation, healthy food and shelter, and respectful relationships with each other and Earth. People acquire well-being, while asking little from the ecosystems around them. Ecosystems are selfless—an important lesson for our species.
The vision of living as a respectful part of the ecosystems that sustain us is the starting point and constant touchstone for making ecosystem-based decisions or Nature directed decisions. Being a respectful part means recognizing that we are only one small, often ecologically insignificant part of the mosaic of natural ecosystems and learning from and protecting those ecosystems we inhabit. Being a respectful part means being Nature directed in our thoughts, plans, and activities.
Natural ecosystems function fully and flawlessly without industrialized human societies, but the converse is not true. Yet, from rural to urban landscapes, forest to grassland landscapes, and fresh water to marine landscapes, human beings have degraded and destroyed the very fabric of ecosystems.
Our ill-conceived actions have fuelled climate change, water degradation, loss of biological diversity, and created many obstacles for human health and well-being. These results are not respectful of ecosystems and demonstrate the lack of a holistic, thoughtful, precautionary, and inclusive vision. NDS is rooted in a vision that avoids recreating these problems, while providing a system to restore natural ecosystem integrity and resilience. NDS asks that we use the vision of people living as humble, respectful parts of ecosystems to reach for an inclusive future that provides for the well-being of all—human and non-human. The NDS vision is achieved through a practical, tested system of planning and ecologically responsible human use of ecosystems i.e., home systems—our home.
At the same time, it provides for ecologically and culturally sustainable communities and their economies. In other words, Nature-Directed Stewardship provides a picture of the ecological framework that is necessary to protect, and the ecological limits that constrain human uses in order for them to be sustainable.
Ecologically and culturally sustainable management of ecosystems recognizes a hierarchical relationship between ecosystems, cultures, and economies. Economies are part of human cultures, and human cultures are part of ecosystems. Therefore, protecting ecosystem functioning provides for healthy human cultures, and the economies that are part of these cultures. This understanding is the foundation for and guides the planning and implementation of Nature-Directed Stewardship/Nature-Directed Stewardshipping/ecosystem-based conservation planning.
NDS offers a way to plan and implement ecosystem-based use of forests, and ecological restoration of previously degraded forests and associated ecosystems. Given the extensive nature and long history of human-centred forest-based activities, applying NDS in these landscapes often focuses on ecological restoration.
In our rush to exploit “resources” found in forests, we have forgotten that we are part of ecosystems supported by a bigger ecosystem—the landscape. By forcing our will on forests, we have degraded those ecosystems and the watersheds and landscapes that support them.
We know enough to do better. We have workable methods for protection of Nature, and for assistance for Nature to restore (where necessary) fully-functioning ecosystems. This change begins with an Earth-centred approach rather than a human-centred approach: we are part of ecosystems, and what we do to ecosystems we do to ourselves. We must focus on needs, not on wants. Consumption must be replaced by conservation embedded in a steady state economy. We must act on the understanding that Earth sustains us, we do not sustain Earth.
Herb Hammond was a Registered Professional Forester and now is a forest ecologist with 30 years of experience in research, industry, teaching and consulting. Together with his wife Susan, he founded the Silva Forest Foundation, a charitable society dedicated to research and education in ecosystem-based conservation planning. Herb has worked cooperatively with Indigenous Nations and rural communities to develop more than 20 ecosystem-based plans across Canada, and in Russia, the United States, and Indonesia.
The 170-page Nature-Directed Stewardship Plans for Glade and Laird Watersheds appears immediately following the comments section, below.