A profound reach across geographic and social landscapes: The community of environmental stewardship groups that care for the lands, waters, special places and lifeforms of Hawaiʻi is profound. In our study of O‘ahu regions of Kona and Koʻolaupoko, 128 groups completed the survey, representing >500 volunteers, >4,000 staff, and well beyond $110 million in annual budgets. These groups also identified over 641 unique organizations as their collaborators in environmental stewardship. Responding groups noted a diversity in their geographic scale, from stewarding a single garden to working across entire coastlines and forest reserves. Respondents also noted diversity in their stewardship locations, from stewarding areas locally to working internationally, indicating the vastness of the network.

Caring for people while caring for place: While the central focus for many environmental stewardship groups is caring for and educating about places, landscapes, and lifeforms, many of these groups also cultivate young leaders, community health and well-being, intergenerational family ties, and sharing of cultural values and knowledge.

Institutionalizing mālama ‘āina: Half of the groups that participated in the survey were founded in the last 20 years. The number of younger groups may be due to several things including: an increased sense of urgency to address growing environmental concerns, concepts such as mālama ʻāina becoming more mainstream, and a way for communities to maintain and/or re-establish their stewardship roles. 2

Reciprocal relationships with ‘āina: 30% of groups have no paid employees. While volunteers play a vital role in assisting groups realize their missions and stewardship goals, volunteers also benefit by gaining access to land, water and other ecosystems, as well as experiences, knowledge, and resources that may otherwise be unavailable or hard to come by for urban and suburban residents.

Learning from ‘āina: Providing educational opportunities was by far the most prevalent type of stewardship reported by respondents, with just over half (51%) of responding groups indicating that they provide ‘āina-based learning opportunities, which focus on learning from and about ‘āina. Increasingly, the integration of these opportunities and resources into stewardship activities is being normalized as formal educational systems are meeting the requests of teachers for ‘āina-based learning opportunities for their students.

Holistic stewardship: We found that 47% of survey respondents were primarily focused on stewardship (i.e., 80-100% of their total efforts), but that about 10% of responding groups devote 20% or less of their efforts on environmental stewardship, focusing instead on other mission areas – for example environmental education. While most respondents represented non-profit environmental organizations, others included schools, farms, researchers, canoe clubs, health-focused groups, groups focused on youth, adults, and/or seniors, groups focused on social justice, policy, and more. Culturally-based groups that focus on stewardship do so specifically from Hawaiian worldviews, approaches, and values, which means that caring for place is caring for people, and that ‘natural resources’ are ‘cultural resources’ that are also viewed as family members.

An interdependent network of environmental stewards: Stewardship networks were made up of an assemblage of groups that are primarily civic (77%) with a significant number of government organizations (19%) and few private organizations (3%) or hybrid groups (2%). The composition of groups highlights the interdependent nature of caring for place in Hawai‘i; the archipelago’s complex history along with the rights and responsibilities of different groups in the network underscore the need for collaborations and connections.


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Last modified: March 17, 2017