By Monica Lasky, February 18, 2019
Conservation biology, preservation of species populations…what do these ‘-ation’ terms mean? Why is the word ‘conservation’ used instead of ‘preservation’, and what is the potential end goal when considering these terms as an act on a particular species or habitat?
To answer these questions, let’s begin with a simple fact: the media, including some scientists, often use these terms incorrectly. Each of these words has a specific meaning, and should be used distinctly when identifying different thoughts and beliefs. Therefore, from this point on, I would suggest forgetting everything you know about these words, and start by concentrating on their definitions:
Conservation – the prevention of wasteful use (Hilderbrand, 2005).
- Common ideals for this mindset include: maintaining balance between humans and the environment; keep what is in good condition, change what is not; protect the resources and keep them at a sustainable level.
Preservation – the act or process of preserving, or keeping safe (Hilderbrand, 2005)
- Common ideals: a hands-off approach; ‘self-design’; allowing the system to stay in the condition in which it is currently and will be as time progresses.
Okay, enough with the definitions. What does all of this mean? To provide further support for the differences between these words, let’s use an example – the protection of Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina – and a pair wildlife biologists discussing the forest’s fate. This large stretch of 500,000 acres helps maintain large populations of wildlife species, and wildlife managers are hoping to promote and/or maintain these plants and animals within the park’s boundaries.
Our two biologists have different fundamental ideals as to how to protect Pisgah. The Conservationist speaks up first, and states that she believes that the best way to preserve Pisgah’s wildlife is by removing invasive species, such as the wild pig, from the forest. This will allow native species to propagate and maintain their numbers as they would if the invasive pig was not present.
The Preservationist disagrees with the Conservationist – he believes that Pisgah National Forest and its wildlife will be best protected by limiting habitat destruction in the area and not interfering with animals or plants in any way. Limiting destruction could be done through multiple regulations and restrictions of the use of the land. By leaving flora and fauna in Pisgah National Forest alone as much as possible, nature will be able to continue its course with few human effects.
The above example is a drastic oversimplification, but provides some insights into how different the modes of thought of Conservation and Preservation are. With this in mind, what have we learned from our elk scenario? For one, these two mindsets are very different. Conservationists wish to manipulate the system in order to provide the best opportunities for the species in question. On the other hand, preservationists hope to leave the species alone, so that ‘nature can be nature’, and the natural balance of the ecosystem can return to its original state. Thus, we can think of conservationists as a more hands-on approach, while preservation attempts to be as hands-off as possible.
In the end, a single person cannot say which of these ideals is best in terms of maintaining and protecting habitats and biodiversity. Often, a combination of these methods can produce an optimal solution. For instance, in Pisgah National Forest, wildlife managers first began by preserving the 500,000 acres from further development, and are now working on conserving both invasive and native species populations through management initiatives. Thus, as with most issues, it can be important for an organization to include people from all walks of life, and of all opinions, when choosing to help protect nature and its resources.
USDA Forest Service – https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/nfsnc/home/?cid=fseprd491137
Schenk, J., 2010. Examining the use of terms Conservation, Restoration, and Preservation between Natural Resource Professionals and Literature Reviews. URL: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/envstudtheses/14/