Enabling a Stewardship Economy in Rural Communities in the American West
Over the last three decades, many rural, isolated communities in the western United States have contended with four intersecting challenges: a downturn in natural resource-based economies; environmental degradation resulting from fire suppression, resource extraction, and intensive uses; a desire for new economic opportunities beyond tourism and recreation; and the need to build resilience in the face of a changing climate. Our research identified and studied rural western communities, in a variety of ecosystems, that have responded to these challenges by fostering community-based efforts that prioritize environmental stewardship as an economic and community development strategy. Some of these efforts include building socially- and economically-viable landscape-scale forest, watershed, and rangeland restoration projects; employing work crews to carry out these projects; helping ranchers and farmers maintain their livelihoods while investing in the health of land and water resources; and seeking to realize market and non-market value from natural resource stewardship. We conducted research in 13 communities to better understand what constitutes a “stewardship economy,” assess what stewardship economy activities are taking place, and identify what has enabled and constrained these activities’ success. Using this research, we developed recommendations for communities, government agencies, policy-makers, and foundations interested in advancing ecological, economic, and community well-being in the rural western United States.
Emily Blackmer, MS (EPP); Logan Christian, MS (EPP, BEC); Rebecca Conway, MS (EPP), JD