Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Native American Philanthropy (Paper II)

By Shahryar Oliai

Graduate Student, Grand Valley State University


Natural resources are made by nature, not by human beings, and may be renewable or non-renewable (University of Texas 2003). The scarcity of natural resources, especially those that are non-renewable, has fueled centuries of debate over how governments and private citizens use, manage, and steward earth's natural resources.

In the context of the natural environment, stewardship means more than managing property. Scientists who study the management of natural resources argue that stewardship includes the management, protection, and an understanding about nature and the value of diversity (Nature Conservancy 2003).

Stewards of natural resources work to preserve the diversity of different species and processes that shape our land, through various techniques such as observing nature and studying ecology. Ecology is the study of the conditions of daily existence and operations in nature (Wildlife Habitat Council 2003). Understanding how nature operates helps managers of natural resources be more effective stewards.

One of the more commonly practiced forms of natural resource management is called conservation . Examples of soil conservation include natural fertilization and crop rotation. Conservation usually involves active management to ensure long-term viability of a resource, but in some cases, conservation means leaving the land and wildlife alone (Edge 2003). For many nonprofit organizations, stewardship is a way to represent or speak on behalf of nature.

Advocacy is the process by which organizations and individuals give voice to a cause, and it is the vehicle used by such representatives to propose change in public laws. Sometimes called lobbying, advocacy involves contacting government leaders and raising public awareness through grassroots and direct organizing.

Historic Roots

Before the 1970s, environmental stewardship focused on public health and conservation. During the 17 th century, European scientists began to detect contaminates in both the water and the air, while civilizations in Asia began practicing soil conservation using techniques like crop rotation. At the turn of the 20 th century, two schools of thought regarding natural resource management emerged in the United States (Radford University 1996). Scholars and practitioners in environmental stewardship still debate this argument today.

Gifford Pinchot and President Theodore Roosevelt championed the idea of "wise land use," while John Muir worked for "unspoiled wilderness" and complete preservation (Ibid). Pinchot, who founded the National Forest Service, maintained that managed land use would best benefit both humans and the natural environment. President T. Roosevelt is now recognized for his contributions to the U.S. Forest Service, as well as the national park system. On the other end of the natural resource management spectrum, Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, fought for environmental protection and preservation, advocating to "keep unmanaged nature alive" (National Wildlife Federation 2003, 12).

Although scientists, doctors, and farmers had been working on theories of natural resource management for centuries, environmentalism first became a household topic and a recognized social movement when Rachel Carson, a biologist, published Silent Spring in 1962. It was an exposé about the dangers of pesticides. The book sparked a public outcry against pollution, land misuse, and animal endangerment and prefaced the rapid development of several nonprofits addressing issues related to the environment (Radford University 2003).

Federally, natural resources are governed by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture under Natural Resources Conservation Services. Additionally, states and local governments administer state policies on land use and resource management through state departments of natural resources and local municipalities.

Major legislation in the U.S. on natural resource management includes the 1935 Soil Conservation Act, the 1970 creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the 1985 Conservation Reserve Program (Ibid.). Throughout the 20 th century, many colleges and universities in the U.S. began offering degrees in natural resource management.

The recent history of natural resource stewardship is diverse and complex. One final important date in any discussion of environmentalism is April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day.


Stewardship of natural resources is an important topic for both organizations and individuals. By managing resource usage ethically and responsibly, good stewards of natural resources ensure the health and beauty of the environment for future generations. However, stewardship of natural resources is not simply the responsibility of environmental nonprofit organizations or individuals with degrees in natural resource management.

Many believe that stewardship begins at home. If each individual were to care, manage and steward the natural resources with which they have been entrusted or have access, large scale problems such as pollution and animal extinction that occur from mismanagement and poor stewardship of resources can be prevented.

Although past, current, and probably future political debates imply that "stewardship" is a subjectively defined topic; in reality, all humans are responsible for the care, protection, and use of natural resources.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Environmental organizations in the nonprofit sector are among the best-known and most successful groups in terms of organizing and advocacy. Stewardship of natural resources in the U.S. is, by and large, a function of individual citizens and/or the government. Thus, many environmental nonprofit organizations work to influence the manner in which the government manages, conserves, and protects natural resources.

Organizations like The Conservation Fund provide an excellent example of the connection between philanthropy and stewardship of natural resources. Using philanthropic donations to influence the conservation of natural resources, The Conservation Fund is an organizational steward of the environment. Contributions from foundations and corporations enabled The Conservation Fund to succeed by "investing 95 percent of its resources into its core mission, creating and sustaining an American Land Legacy for this and future generations" (The Conservation Fund 2003, 1).

Key Related Ideas

Management is the act of managing, organizing and directing to achieve a favorable outcome.

Education is knowledge or skill that is taught or obtained to increase awareness of a subject.

Empowerment results when individuals or groups gain confidence and power to make a difference in their lives or causes.

Grassroots involves individuals at a local level who organize to work toward a common goal.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Hugh H. Bennett: Bennett, a soil conservationist, wrote prolifically on the subject throughout the first half of the 20 th century. He served as the U.S. first head of the Soil Conservation Service Agency. Bennett, who believed that environmental stewardship was a responsibility of every human being, wrote, " Since society as a whole depends on the produce of the land for its present and future existence, society as a whole must share in the responsibility and costs of maintaining land in a productive state" (Bennett 1959, 20.)

  • Rachel Carson: Carson, a well-known writer and biologist, indirectly formalized the environmental movement of the 1970s with her ground-breaking book, Silent Spring .

  • Anna Botsford Comstock: Comstock, another of the most recognized women in natural resource stewardship, altered the way that schools taught about the environment with her handbook for fellow teachers in the early 20 th century (National Wildlife Federation 2003).

  • Aldo Leopold: Leopold, a forester, is known for his contributions in wildlife game surveys and scholarly papers about the land as community.

  • John Muir: Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, worked closely with President Roosevelt in establishing the National Forest Service and was considered an extremist in his view and use of advocacy techniques.

  • Gifford Pinchot: Pinchot worked along side John Muir in establishing the National Forest Service and was also considered an extremist in his view and use of advocacy techniques.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations directly and indirectly related to the stewardship of natural resources. Among the largest, oldest, and most well-known are:

  • Greenpeace, founded in 1971, is an independent campaigning organization using non-violent direct action and creative communication to draw attention to global environmental problems and promote solutions to ensure a environmentally friendly and peaceful future ( http://www.greenpeaceusa.org ).

  • National Wildlife Federation, founded in 1936, is the nation's largest and oldest protector of wildlife. With more than four million members and supporters, NWF educates and empowers people to protect wildlife and habitat for future generations (http://www.nwf.org).

  • The Nature Conservancy, founded in 1951, has working with communities, businesses and individuals to protect more than 117 million acres around the world. In its annual survey of the largest U.S. charities, Forbes calculated The Nature Conservancy's fundraising efficiency at 91%, which is among the highest ratings for charities.

  • The Sierra Club, founded in 1892, is America's oldest, largest and perhaps the most influential grassroots environmental organization. The Club's 700,000 members work together to protect communities and the planet ( http://www.sierraclub.org ).

Related Web Sites

The Natural Resources Conservation Services, at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov, is an agency of the Dept. of Agriculture that publishes a "Tidbits for Teachers" guide to understanding soil conservation, at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/education/.

The Wildlife Habitat Council, at http://www.wildlifehc.org, also provides electronic lesson plans for teachers. Their program called, "Teaching students about backyard conservation" covers both elementary and middle school grades http://www.wildlifehc.org/managementtools/backyard-lessonplans.cfm.

The National Association of Conservation Districts Education, at http://www.nacdnet.org. publishes materials that may be purchased through their web site only, on teaching about the environment. Books, posters, and even a water purification unit can be found at http://www.nacdnet.org/education/.

Bibliography and Internet Sources

Bennett, Hugh Hammond. The Hugh Bennett Lectures. Raleigh: The Agricultural Foundation, Inc., North Carolina State College, 1959.

Edge, W. Daniel. "Definitions, History of Wildlife Conservation." (2003). Oregon State University. http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/fw251/.

National Wildlife Federation. "Conservation Hall of Fame." http://www.nwf.org/halloffame.

Nature Conservancy. "Defining the Science of Stewardship." The Nature Conservancy. http://www.nature.org/wherewework/northamerica/states/

Radford University. "Timeline - Environmental History Timeline." (1996).

The Conservation Fund. "The Conservation Fund Recognized as Top Environmental Organization." http://www.conservationfund.org.

University of Texas. "Resources - What are Natural Resources?" January (2003).

Wildlife Habitat Council. "Wildlife - Teaching Students About Backyard Conservation."