Connecting On-the-Ground Work, Online

  • By Denise Adamic, Public Affairs Specialist, Pacific Southwest Regional Office
Men and women line up along a shore wall with mountains in the background. Men and women carry potted plants down a hiking trail.
School children line up carrying potted plants as part of a school project.

Students prepare to plant native plants in Moanalua Valley as part of their “Aloha Iona Managua” curriculum. (Photo courtesy of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife)

In a world of digital dating, forming relationships online is nothing new. For conservation groups in Hawaiʻi, an online database is a new conservation matchmaker connecting people, projects and initiatives to care for Oʻahu’s lands and waters. The Stewardship Mapping & Assessment Project (STEW-MAP) is an effort to understand, highlight, and support community groups that care for special places in the state. The first phase on Oʻahu focuses on the island’s eastern and southern watersheds with other areas coming online in the future.

STEW-MAP encourages local groups and organizations to complete a survey that addresses questions, such as: who takes care of this land? How does the organization care for the land? Who are the collaborators? The collected data is then used to create a public online database and map of community, civic, and other organizations that mālama ʻāina and kai (care for the land and water). This database will identify gaps and overlaps in conservation attention, and create resources to strengthen capacity. It will serve as a networking tool for organizations, volunteers, and land management agencies.

“This map will connect and build community,” said Blair Sataraka, a teacher at Hanahauʻoli School who recently completed the survey. “Communities that are like minded: mālama ʻāina, mālama honua (care for the earth), aloha ʻāina (love the land) will make a change for the good. You’re going to do more for your neighbor than a stranger. That’s human nature.”

Research shows that a community-based network of stewardship stretches beyond ownership boundaries and project specific areas, and brings together formal and informal as well as small and far-reaching groups.


STEW-MAP Oʻahu is modeled after a similar project launched 10 years ago by the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station in New York City. Since then, similar digital collaborations have been applied in Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, Los Angeles as well internationally in France, Colombia, and China. Last year a project focused on West Hawaiʻi Island, resulted in 129 groups connecting online. That project was supported by the Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station and Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).

“A unique aspect of STEW-MAP is that it shows the relationships among groups that are not all solely focused on stewardship, but care for the land as a pathway to meet their own missions, whether it be health, youth leadership, or the perpetuation of cultural values and practices” said Heather McMillen, Urban and Community Forester for DOFAW and former researcher with the Forest Service Northwest Research Station.

“STEW-MAP can show the relationships among canoe clubs, public and private schools, faith-based organizations, neighbors, and families that may not typically be recognized as part of the conservation community, yet their efforts all contribute to caring for the many special places on our island home.”

Since the project began in January, more than 60 groups have participated in STEW-MAP Oʻahu including schools, canoe clubs, conservation alliances, community-based non-profits, and researchers. Data from the surveys will be the basis for the creation of Oʻahu-focused tools to help visualize and promote stewardship, including a Forest Service supported online map and other tools collaboratively created with partners and stewardship groups.

“The STEW-MAP Oʻahu survey is still open,” said Rachel Dacks, STEW-MAP Oʻahu researcher. “We encourage all groups to join this effort by taking the survey and getting on the map!”

STEW-MAP Oʻahu is supported by the Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region and DOFAW. It operates in partnership with the Kaulunani Urban and Community Forestry Program of DOFAW, and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa; and in collaboration with Kākoʻo ʻŌiwi; Smart Trees Pacific; Paepae o Heʻeia; Hawaiʻi Coastal Zone Management; The Outdoor Circle; Resilient Oʻahu of the Honolulu Office of Climate Change, Resiliency, and Sustainability; Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo; Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science; Promise to Pae ʻĀina; Travel2Change; and the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

More information about STEW-MAP Oʻahu, including how to join, can be found online: