Chapter 1: What This Book Is All AboutFor fifteen years now, we have been developing programs to help rural landowners understand and care for their properties. We know from this work that rural landowners love their land and are always ready to learn more about it. The single most common group of questions landowners have are related to caring for their woodlands and creating new woodlands by planting trees.Some owners want to leave their woods completely alone, to preserve it just for the birds. Others need or want to harvest timber or firewood on an ongoing basis. In between are owners interested in nature study, hiking, hunting, and other activities. Many landowners choose a combination of these relationships with their land.As long as the care of your woodland is "sustainable" -- that is, it leaves the woods in healthy ecological condition - we believe that management should be the choice of the landowner. This is why we use the term "stewardship" to refer to this role of landowners. In our view, stewardship simply means the care that private landowners give to their land. It implies some active management based on understanding and an ethical commitment to leave your land in as good condition as, or better than, you found it.In this book, we will be reviewing a full range of woodland-management options, from preserving your woodland for nature to sustainable timber harvesting. Management that takes into account this complete range of options is sometimes referred to as "holistic forestry." Woodland StewardshipOver the past decade, the science of forest management has changed substantially, from a historic emphasis on timber and some wildlife management to an emphasis on caring for the entire forest as an "ecosystem."An "ecosystem" is the sum total of all the factors and components that make up the natural system in a given region. It includes physical factors such as the soil, water, sunlight, nutrients, and energy that enable the system to function. It includes the plants that grow in the area to form a plant community. And it includes the wildlife that lives in the area, from birds to mammals to the millions of insects that we rarely notice.Above all, the term "ecosystem" emphasizes the relationships and interactions among all these components. Thus an ecosystem is a complex web of individual parts, all interacting with each other, as we will discuss in more detail in Chapter 2, on woodland ecology.A new term closely associated with our understanding of ecosystems is "biodiversity." This term has grown out of international concern for the disappearance of species as humanity eliminates more and more of the remaining natural habitats on the planet. It refers to the complete biological diversity in a region, including the diversity of plant communities in a landscape, the diversity of species in a community, the diversity of genetic characteristics in a single species, and the genetic traits of an individual organism. Conservation of biodiversity is now a global priority, another issue to which we will return in the following chapter.But woodlands have other important functions as well. Conserving water resources is one of the most critical; forest vegetation plays a key role in the hydrological cycle, moderating runoff and minimizing erosion. Woodlands also provide our most important wildlife habitats and are widely used for recreation, to say nothing of their economic value.When we speak of ecosystem management, or conservation of biodiversity, we are placing the emphasis on the woodland as a whole, not just the trees and certainly not just those trees that we miForster, R. Roy is the author of 'Woodland Garden Planting in Harmony With Nature' with ISBN 9781552093597 and ISBN 155209359X.