Stewardship Science and Praxis

Calvin B. DeWitt (
Fri, 21 Jun 1996 10:13:19 -0500

Hello! I have a story, as a contribution to our deliberations on
stewardship together. Here it is:

I once was Chairman of my Town-- the Town of Dunn in Wisconsin-- and we were
faced with the need to make some decisions on the way we were using the land.

The excellent suggestion was made that we conduct a research study to
evaluate our situation based upon the best science and policy information

We called on a consultant who was expert in such studies to advise us on
what we should do, and the consultant set forth a plan for a study.

It occured to me toward the conclusion of the meeting to ask the consultant
what the most distressing outcome of the study might be if everything we
were doing countered good science and good policy. He deliberated at length
and then gave his assessment. Next I asked the consultant what the most
optimistic outcome of the study might be if everything we were doing was
consistent with good science and good policy. He again deliberated at
length and gave us his second assessment.

Of course the two assessments were extremely different from each other-- the
one envisioning a town that might be seen as a model for others to follow,
and the other envisioning a town in crisis.

I then opened the meeting of the townspeople to full discussion, asking what
we would do differently if the first assessment described our future in
contrast with the situation where the second assessment desribed our future.

The result of the discussion by the townspeople overwhelmed all of us. The
consensus of the meeting was that no matter whether the first or second
assessment, or anything in between these extremes were the outcome of a
study, the conclusion was exactly the same. We still would want to take a
path now that would make us the best stewards of our town as we possibly
could be! We did not do the study. Instead, we wrote a stewardship plan
for our town, based upon the best science and best policy instruments
available. And then we formulated this so that it could be implemented.
And finally, we have applied it consistently to the land we hold in trust as

We discovered in process, that no matter what the problem may or may not be,
we are first of all stewards of the land and creatures given to our trust.

I am a natural scientist. And I must say that this unexpected response
pointed me to a new direction in how I would use my science. It would be
directed toward helping my townspeople become the best possible stewards of
that part of Creation entrusted to us.

There is a lesson here for us as scientists-- and it is one that does not
come easily. While we have the capacity perhaps to produce various
scenarios, as I so often have done with my computer models of ecosystems and
ecosystems interacting with human beings, we also have the capacity to use
our knowledge, and disciplined ability to garner knowledge, to assure the
best stewardship of Creation in the places we live and move. And since we
are not the only stewards, we must engage the other stewards and potential
stewards around us to be so inspired by what God has given to our trust,
that they too will want to give Creation-- land, creatures, and people--
their loving care.

Cal DeWitt

p.s. The Town of Dunn in which I live has 5000 people, and from 1972 to the
present has developed and implemented its land stewardship plan. Its
success was recognized in January, 1995 by its receipt of the Renew America
Award. Copies of the Handbook upon which this plan is based is available
from Roz Gausmann, the Town Clerk of the Town of Dunn at (608) 255-4219.