By John Eberhart
Be careful when encountering these terms. A speaker
may mean a word in a far different sense from what you understand the
word to mean. Tricky differences exist between denotations (strict
definitions) and connotations (what is implied, indicated, or involved
as an attribute).
Do you send money to an organization that has
“Wildlife” or “Conservation” in its name? If so, you especially need to
disambiguate terms. Don’t pay for what you don’t want!
The best policy:
ignore what a person or an organization SAYS; focus instead on what he
or it DOES.
“Preservation” means to allow to remain intact or unchanged.
This implies a saving from change (usually, human disturbance), e.g., a
natural habitat threatened by urban development. It is accepted that
nature is dynamic, not static; change occurs even without human
activity. This is change via natural forces (such as erosion or
windstorm) and ecological succession. Preservationists do not attempt to
inhibit such natural changes The preservationist approach is biocentric.
It protects species or landscapes without reference to natural change in
living systems nor does it consider the human requirements or
convenience of such changes.
A Chief Scientist of the National Park
[T]he National Park Service is not a conservation agency,
but a preservation organization. ...policies for natural areas of the
National Park System...Management will minimize...changes in the native
environment resulting from human influences on...ecological
succession...reintroduction of extirpated species....a park’s basic
objectives include reestablishment of the area’s natural ecosystems to
the conditions that existed in 1790 or 1880 or whenever the first
European first arrived...Timber production, game management, and species
diversity usually are unused terms to Park Service scientists and
managers. Our energy is directed toward other management
objectives...natural systems preservation and species reestablishment./1
The President‘s Council on Environmental Quality concluded in its
Eleventh Annual Report, “Biological Diversity”:
Managing for the
enhancement of yields or survival of one species invariably affects
others, benefiting some, harming some. In contrast, the ecosystem
approach intentionally preserves diversity rather than doing so
incidental to maximizing one or a few kinds of organisms...The
underlying idea is that an undisturbed ecosystem will permit a wide
variety of organisms to exist in a quasi-natural balance with minimal
human subsidies...Because human ecological knowledge is incomplete,
there is a great virtue in letting nature take its course rather than
intervening—action which may be well-intended but is sometimes misguided
or even heavy- handed....Most species in well-designed ecological
reserves will maintain abundant levels and escape extinction
indefinitely without species-oriented help so long as they are not
deprived of feeding, hiding and breeding places and are not polluted,
hunted or harassed severely....Providing sufficient tracts of
undisturbed land and fresh water obviates the need for heroic
intervention to prevent extinction. A further advantage to the ecosystem
approach is once land is purchased, administering ecological reserves is
much less costly than managing species one by one.
“Conservation” can include preservation – but it does consider the
value of managing the eco-system to the human community. Conservation is
a catchall term loaded with euphemisms. Views of how to manage nature
range from conscientious, through benign neglect,/2 to baldly
The term “Conservation” implies protection and
management of resources so as to ensure their efficient use and
continuity of supply, while maintaining their quality, value, and
diversity. Recreational and aesthetic needs are taken into account,
while allowing for agriculture and “harvesting” of natural resources.
This necessitates planning of what is “taken” from the environment in
terms of the “yield” of animals, plants, and materials, while at the
same time maintaining the most diverse gene pool, and as much natural
habitat, as possible.
In the context of natural resources, four types of
conservation have been recognized:
1. Species conservation involves the
protection of species which are under threat from any form of
2. Habitat conservation seeks to maintain representative
habitat types over the full, ecological range.
3. Land use conservation
seeks to balance competing forms of land use with natural ecosystems.
Creative conservation uses landscapes produced by society—from utility
right-of-ways to brownfields and spoil banks./3
Gifford Pinchot was the
first chief of the Forest Service. (Today the agency is part of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.) Pinchot’s words:
The object of our forest
policy is not to preserve the forests because they are beautiful or wild
or the habitat of wild animals; it is to ensure a steady supply of
timber for human prosperity. Every other consideration comes as
The word “conservation” in its present meaning was unknown
until 1907. It occurred to me that forests, irrigation, soil protection,
flood control, water power, wildlife, and a host of other things that up
to that time had been kept in water-tight compartments were all part of
one problem. That problem was how to use the whole earth and all its
resources for the enduring good of men.
Following the birth of that
idea, we had to give it a name, and we decided on CONSERVATION./5
might wonder what John Muir, the wildlife- and forest-preservationist,
would think of what has become of the Sierra Club that he founded. A
split between preservationists and conservationists dates to his time
and continues to this day.
Careful readers of Muir’s writings saw that
he was separating himself from those people in the conservation
movement, like Gifford Pinchot, who had a utilitarian view of nature.
The utilitarians believed that natural resources were to be managed for
human use and profit. They did not feel these resources had any
intrinsic value, but rather that their value derived from their
usefulness to people. They were willing to make compromises that Muir
and other preservationists, those wishing to preserve nature, would not
make. The utilitarian’s believed that we should manage forests so that
we would have adequate supplies of lumber and other forest products.
Unlike Muir, they did not see forests as sources of spiritual renewal
and as home for wild creatures.
When Muir was in Seattle in the fall of
1897 on his way home from Alaska, he picked up a newspaper. There he saw
Gifford Pinchot quoted as saying that sheep grazing would do little harm
to the forest reserves. Muir was outraged. On the forestry commission
trip, Pinchot had agreed with him that such grazing was harmful. Now he
was saying what was acceptable to the sheep and cattle ranchers who had
the political power in the Northwest. The break between Muir and Pinchot
was part of the division between the utilitarian-conservationists and
the preservationists. There would be battles ahead…/6
definition of conservation is, the artificial control of ecological
relationships in an environment in order to maintain a particular
balance among the species present./7
implies USE—consumption—of a commodity, a natural “resource.” In our
utilitarian culture, often it is felt that resources should be used.
Non-use may sound lazy and wasteful. We all do use natural resources,
e.g., water, paper, aluminum, minerals, soil. Rather than use up and
discard these, we recycle and buy recycled products wherever possible.
We conserve water, cellulose, metal scrap, yard trimmings, soil, and
more. We are conservationists—up to a point.
policy fails when applied to wildlife and public forests. Using living
things entails taking their lives or some substance such as eggs, nests
etc. which is necessary for their lives, comfort and reproductive
success. The choice is to kill or not to kill. Fence-sitters find
little space for compromise between two conflicting positions.
Gottschalk of the International Association of Game, Fish, and
Conservation Commissioners, said:
It is easy to understand and explain
our traditional preoccupation with harvestable wildlife. It is rapidly
becoming more difficult to justify the tradition....if a particular
species can be exploited we find ourselves studying it and attempting to
manage it in order to expand its contributions to man’s welfare....one
could characterize wildlife-management policies over much of the world,
as a matter of fact, as being superficial. They deal largely with end
products, and ignore the vast and complex matrix of plant and animal
life which in the long run supports not only fish and wildlife but man
himself....the use of wildlife resources is the measure of their
value....this philosophy...has dominated public and political wildlife
resources policy over the years. The “use syndrome” in its most material
sense has become the cornerstone of our wildlife programs....that
cornerstone may be on a shaky foundation./7
In The Fallacy of Wildlife
Conservation, naturalist John Livingston wrote:
For years I had been
uncritically mouthing the conservation catechism; it was time to think
it through...Many hunters, developers, planners, managers and others
will proclaim themselves as being conservation-oriented in the most
modern, aware and realistic way, by contrast with the old-fashioned,
stubborn “preservationists” who squat sullenly and stupidly in the way
of orderly progress. This...dichotomy is as useful to the
production-consumption parade as it is destructive of wild nature...
With very precise (commercial) exceptions, the self-interest argument
has not preserved, and cannot preserve, wildlife...The argument of
self-interest is fundamentally contradictory to the wildlife
preservation purpose, and in actuality works against that purpose. Its
long tradition is one of the prime reasons for our failure./8
Unlimited director was quoted:
[Former Interior Secretary James] Watt
has helped conservation. He stuck his neck out a mile and got the
stuffing kicked out of him. A lot of environmentalists crept out of the
woodwork after Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. They got control of
a lot of things. Then they figured that if they could not utilize the
resources, then they did not want anyone else to be able to use them.
But I agree with Watt that there is nothing wrong with the development
of public lands for the utilization of their natural resources. Nothing
at all. That IS conservation, isn’t it?/9
Given the historical
perspective of the two trends we, in the animal protection community,
are solidly in camp with the preservationists when it comes to policies
that regulate the management (or preferably the absence of lethal
management ) of wildlife habitat.
Our opponents: the hunters, trappers
and anglers on the other hand are advocates of the consumptive (and in
their myopic view “sustainable”) use of nature. They are in the
The danger is that many humane people who oppose
hunting and trapping will financially or politically support the efforts
of organizations that make any reference to wildlife in their name, and
in their glossy handouts and glitzy websites.
Before we endorse them,
let’s scrutinize them a little more and look for give-away terms like
“conservation,” “wise-use,” or “sustainable” in their self-descriptions.
But most importantly, let’s look at their actions and endorsements of
agency actions that support management for human benefit rather than for
nature itself. This shortsighted view is surely not sustainable for the
duration of our suffering planet’s lifespan.
John Eberhart is with the
Georgia Earth Alliance, Atlanta, GA.
1. Roland Wauer, "Management of Nongame Birds in Current Policies and
Decision Making within the National Park Service," at Symposium on
Management of Forest and Range Habitats for Nongame Birds, Tucson, May
6-9, 1975. 2. benign neglect: an attitude or policy of ignoring an often
undesirable situation that one is perceived to be responsible for
dealing with. 3. Brian Goodall, The Penguin Dictionary of Human
Geography. NY: Penguin 1987. ISBN 0-14-051095-8. 4. speech to the
Society of American Foresters, in Frederick Turner, Rediscovering
America: John Muir in His Time and Ours. 5. P.W. Chapman et al. eds.,
Conserving Soil Resources: A Guide To Better Living. Atlanta: Turner E.
Smith & Co., 1950, p 224. 6. Sally Tolan, John Muir: Naturalist, Writer,
and Guardian of the American Wilderness. Wilton CT: Morehouse Publishing
1990, ISBN 0819215406, P. 47–8. 7. Michael Allaby, A Dictionary of
Zoology. NY: Oxford University Press 1999 2e. ISBN 0-19-280076-0. 8.
John Gottschalk, Executive Vice President, International Association of
Game, Fish, and Conservation Commissioners, keynote address at Symposium
on Management of Forest and Range Habitats for Nongame Birds, Tucson,
May 6-9, 1975. 9. John Livingston, The Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation.
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart 1981. ISBN 0-7710-5336-3. 10. Dale
Whitesell, Ducks Unlimited Executive Director, quoted in Atlanta
Journal, Apr 21, 1983.