Environmental Stewardship, the practice of caring for and protecting the environment for ecosystem health and human well-being, involves a diverse group of communities and organizations that help steward lands, waters, and the air. Environmental stewardship groups are greatly affected and influenced by their collaborations. These partnerships are critical to accomplish shared goals of watershed and coastal governance.
The Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project of Southeast New England (Stew-MAP SNE) supports a broader understanding of the existing environmental stewardship networks and supports the capacity building of the groups who take care of the environment. The methodology was developed by the USDA Forest Service and brought to the Southeast New England Program (SNEP) Region by SNEP Network Partner, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). The Stewardship Mapping Project of Southeast New England (Stew-MAP SNE) documents where environmental stewardship groups work, what they do, and who they collaborate with as part of their networks.
There are many benefits to mapping Southeast New England’s environmental stewardship organizations. Bryce DuBois, Environmental Psychologist at the College of the Holy Cross (formerly RISD), says: “I hope that people will use Stew-Map SNE as a tool to find out what groups are taking care of a given region or on different topics within Southeast New England, and to use the information to support, enhance and grow environmental collaborations. Stew-MAP SNE is a useful tool to identify where there is regional knowledge and expertise on different environmental topics, as well as where there may be gaps or concentrations of care (where there are many or few overlapping group turfs). While there is a need to be cognizant that Stew-Map SNE is inherently limited to only groups who responded to the survey, this information is a good starting point to begin to ask questions about parity in the region”. Additionally, DuBois mentions that with the influx of funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, municipalities and organizations may utilize the Stew-MAP SNE data and tools to ensure that they are including stewardship groups in their conversations which can lead to stronger funding proposals.
The team developed a Stew-MAP SNE Dashboard that allows users to search for stewardship groups and stewardship activities that take place throughout the SNEP region. The dashboard allows users to interact with the map and to view that data for different watersheds or the region as a whole. Users can also filter by specific organization types, such as groups focused on agriculture. Users may also access information about the organizational contacts, type of organization, type of stewardship activities, number of staff, and their collaborators.
Image: The Stew-MAP SNE dashboard displaying the map of Southeast New England and multiple data filters; hosted on ARC GIS by the U.S Forest Service.
With the creation of the Stew-MAP SNE Dashboard and related datasets, there is an opportunity to gain a new perspective of the social infrastructure that makes stewardship possible. Jesse Sayle, a former ORISE Postdoctoral Fellow working with the project notes: “I hope the Stew-Map, and networks diagrams are used to explore the area and get to know it in a different way that helps groups generate questions. I hope people start to think about how all the group activities in different regions, and group interaction within and across regions, add up and shape the landscape from local to regional levels. The Stew-map is a way to start thinking holistically about activity in the region and what that might mean for a group in their own backyard as well as region wide.” By taking a holistic approach to stewardship, the project can help synthesize stewardship activities to support cross-site learning and capacity building.
The development of the Stew-MAP SNE project was a multi-step, multi-year process. Throughout the first year of the project, the research team developed the project scope, adapted the survey methodology from the U.S Forest Service, and created an inventory of environmental organizations in the SNEP region assembled from online sources along with working with key environmental group collaborators. During the following year, the Stew-MAP SNE team surveyed the stewardship groups through three rounds of targeted outreach. Casey Merkle, a graduate of RISD’s Nature- Culture- Sustainability Studies Master’s program and a previous research assistant with the Stew-MAP SNE project, explains “The inventory was split between three research assistants and groups were contacted via email and phone in order to identify the right groups and people to participate. Once identified, participants filled out a survey of questions about the type of environmental stewardship work they do, organizational capacity, and who they work with or want to work with in the future”. When people named partnership organizations that were not in the team’s original inventory of Southeastern New England stewardship groups, these new groups were also contacted to participate. After several rounds of outreach and survey recruitment, the project culminated with 170 survey responses, which the Stew-map team analyzed. The products, including network visualizations, an interactive dashboard, papers, posters, and presentations, are published on the SNEP Network website.
Image: Overview of the multi-step process implemented for the Stew-Map project
SNEP communities may use the dashboard to gain insights and observations of the inner workings of stewardship in Southeast New England. For instance, when asked what surprised them the most about their research, DuBois responded: “First and foremost, from a capacity perspective, Southeast New England environmental groups steward an immense geographic area, have done so for an average of more than thirty years, and many do so without an operating budget to speak of (51 out of 143 reported no budget). This is extraordinary!”
The research team also found that groups identified conservation as their primary stewardship activity (27% of groups) more than any other activity. These groups reported that due to the pandemic, they were challenged to adapt to the increased community desire to visit conserved lands. In fact, the research team produced a research paper on these self-reported Covid impacts (Merkle et al., 2022) as a result of the survey information collected during the pandemic. As other key takeaways, the team noted that there were limited network connections to tribal groups, and that state and municipal boundaries still very much influence where groups work, what their knowledge networks are and what funding they receive. “This is true, for example, in the Blackstone River watershed,” said DuBois, “and so efforts such as the Blackstone Watershed Collaborative [provide] examples where such boundaries can be rethought and reworked to support collective goals” (The Blackstone Watershed Collaborative is also a SNEP Network Partner).
The team encourages communities to use the data available from the Stew-MAP SNE Dashboard and datasets, and reach out to the team should they have questions, want to learn more, or have a concern about any of the project components. If communities or organizations would like to collaborate and ask questions that might serve their research or practical needs, the Stew-MAP SNE team is interested in hearing from you. The Stew-MAP methodology has been implemented globally in several cities and there are opportunities to compare stewardship data as well as connect with a global community of researchers and practitioners who support environmental collaboration.
You may access the Stew-MAP SNE’s Results, Products and Public Data on the SNEP Network Website.
The Stew-MAP SNE Dashboard is hosted by the US Forest Service ARCGIS: https://www.arcgis.com/apps/dashboards/2fe9393c3fe343ab80cdcaf6c1a2cb33
The SNEP Network is a project of the New England Environmental Finance Center and is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast New England Program. For more information about upcoming SNEP Network webinars and events, other assistance and training opportunities and resources, or to get in touch with us, visit the SNEP Network’s website at snepnetwork.org.