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Including stewardship in ecosystem health assessment


To adapt to the ecological crises and social inequities of the Anthropocene, a new conservation paradigm is emerging that embraces people in nature and the positive roles people play in ecosystem health through land stewardship. We discuss the emergence of this new model and explore the methods needed to research and coordinate stewardship as part of conservation landscape planning through a practical case study. Updating conservation frameworks to include the positive impacts people have on ecosystems, we argue, is a powerful leverage point for catalysing more effective and equitable nature conservation and other large-scale societal transformations necessary for just sustainability.

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Fig. 1: A revised conceptual framework of interactions among people and nature.
Fig. 2: Conservation landscape is a stewardship mosaic.
Fig. 3: Example of social–ecological feedbacks among fire, redwoods and stewardship.
Fig. 4: Components of the sustainable landscape health assessment.
Fig. 5: The landscape viewed from three different lenses of health.


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Funding for this research was provided by the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation. We thank G. Knoblock for his support and encouragement. Thank you to T. Robinson, C. Glazer and K. Tomozawa for geographic information system assistance with the development of the SLHA. We appreciate the input and review provided by E. Hadly and T. Matza. This work would not be possible without the cooperation and inspiration of the Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship Network.

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N.E.H., D.S., K.M.C. and A.D.B. worked collaboratively to develop this Perspective. All authors contributed to the ideas expressed, and reviewed and edited multiple drafts. N.E.H. wrote the manuscript and prepared tables and figures. K.M.C. led the development of the SLHA and prepared figures.

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Correspondence to Nicole E. Heller.

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Heller, N.E., McManus Chauvin, K., Skybrook, D. et al. Including stewardship in ecosystem health assessment. Nat Sustain (2023).

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