Research Paper: What Is Better for Environmental Protection Conservation Preservation or Both?

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Conservation Preservation

Conservation and Preservation: An Emergent Compatibility

Prior to the introduction of major legislation concerning the environment, it had been a popularly accepted notion that our utilization of the earth would be subject to no limitations. Our manifold purposes, pertaining to the expansion of commercial industries, the procurement of lands for residency, the optimization of geological settings for pedestrian needs and the constantly swelling demand for space upon which to drive had for many years after the start of the Industrial Age taken precedence in our notion of sociological advancement. The overarching notion that the earth belonged to man to do with as he pleased was given little contest in the public forum, with large economic, political and cultural contingents generally conceding to the argument that this was the best avenue to serving the public interests.

Decades of industrialization, however, leading into the economic boom which followed World War II and saw America into its first great age of consumerism, began to take a legitimate toll on the natural landscape of the nation. Especially in the United States, which was so valued a land asset in its founding due to the seemingly endless wealth of natural resources and species diversity, it had been perceived that such bounties were at our disposal in perpetuity. With growing evidence that this perception was not only false but was bearing deeply destructive consequences for the species and land surrounding us, a new perspective began to emerge which would be the ideological grounding for the environmental, conservation and wildlife preservation movements. As the discussion hereafter denotes, the environmental movement requires some combination of both conservationist and preservationist philosophies.

Our research finds that these are two distinct but complimentary ideologies about how best to approach the problems of modernization, industrialization, energy consumption, land use and environmental abuse. In the mid-20th century, the preservationist movement had taken root. Its focal "issue was the fate of 'wilderness.' A number of organizations began to argue that undeveloped lands of great natural beauty ought to be preserved." (Rome, 1) This established a segment of the environmental protection movement intended upon creating protected wilderness spaces to be left undeveloped and protecting from human interference.

Though preservation had begun to take root in the early 60s, it had not yet been buttressed by a set of regulations which could be called strictly environmental in nature. Toward the culmination of a decade of philosophical, cultural and political progress, the National Environmental Policy Act was passed. This created the Environmental Protection Agency, a department within the President's cabinet to which the whole of environmental legislative concerns are committed.

"In this, the first major U.S. environmental legislation, Congress declared:

'that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.' 2 / NEPA 101(a), 42 U.S.C. 4331(a)." (Weiss, 3)

Though this legislation was largely a response to the preservation movement, its language reflected the aim of the conservationist movement. In his book, A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold offers a unique insight into the conservationist approach which would increasingly be adopted by the EPA and such agencies as the National Park Service. An early 20th century protege of the utilitarian environmental perspective taken by Forest Service founder Gifford Pinchot, Leopold provides counterbalance to preservation's complete withdrawal from manipulation of nature. Finding a middle ground which may have provided some of the theoretical basis for the centricity of the legislation cited directly above, his work argues that it is man's responsibility to reign in his excessive impulses while likewise suiting environmental conditions to align with his needs. Leopold called this approach 'land ethic' and described this as a principle of basic land management. It is around this principle that the conservationist movement would ultimately align. As Leopold (1986) explains, this is an approach which adjusts the traditional focus of ethics beyond manmade institutions and those which also contextualize man. Leopold notes that "the land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plans, and animals, or collectively: the land." (p. 239)

This concept of man as part of a broader natural community would be adopted as a major strand of the conservationist movement. Indeed, this would suggest that man's ambitions are not opposed to nature but contextualized by its bounty, its limitations and that which it provides us for basic survival. Here, conservation suggested an alteration rather than a desistance of our ways of interacting with the natural environment. The misuse and overuse of many of our public lands, already designated for preservationist protection, has created a perilous state of vulnerability in America's forests which would have to be addressed through intervention. However, for the better part of the 20th century, this was an idea that was not readily accepted, with its scientific and political implications provoking varied responses and an overall static state of action in terms of policy change. Leopold's perspective denotes that preservation is unrealistic in the face of human habitation, and that inconsistencies between human needs and the inevitable patterns of nature will inherently provoke some environmental discord. The text by Rosenau (2007) supports this claim by using the example of the Kansas prairie grasses which must naturally be consumed in some portion by naturally occurring wildfires. Human habitation has made prevention of these fires a major priority, but has also impacted the ecosystem by preserving grasslands intended for natural removal. This decidedly negative impact on the environment would prompt conservationist strategies instead, where controlled fires have been used to facilitate the coexistence of man and nature. As Rosenau observes, "humans have changed the environment by fragmenting landscapes, by extinguishing fires, and by removing species from their habitats. Protecting those lands does not mean taking our hands off, it means making careful decisions about the right way to manage the land. Preservation winds up destroying wild places. Conservation may make them less wild, but it means they stay around." (p. 1)

This points us toward Leopold's idea of 'land ethic' as a way of responsibly and ethically managing natural landscapes rather than categorically removing ourselves there from. To an extent, there is a practical realism to the conservationist strategy that makes it a necessary dimension of protecting the environment. However, it does not sufficiently address the question of how best to ensure the continuity of unique natural habitats; of how to create contexts in which species can proliferate without intervention; and of how to guarantee that future generations will have the opportunity to experience the wildnerss in the ways that have been available to us.

Such is to suggest that the argument posed by Nash (2001) and other preservationists remains pointedly relevant today. Namely, there was an expectation with the creation of the first protected lands in America that "the wilderness preserves would serve this purpose by providing a perpetual frontier and keeping Americans in contact with primitive conditions. The rapid growth of the preservation movement, which reached a climax after 1910," would reveal a clear public interest in seeing that such lands continued to exist. In many ways, with the inception of conservationism, these goals have been lost in the environmental discourse. But the research conducted here suggests that these goals of preservation and conservation need not be mutually exclusive. To the contrary, it is more appropriate to view both as strategic imperatives in the broader push to define a sustainable way of living.

As our research comes to demonstrate,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

What Is Better for Environmental Protection Conservation Preservation or Both?.  (2010, October 26).  Retrieved May 25, 2019, from

MLA Format

"What Is Better for Environmental Protection Conservation Preservation or Both?."  26 October 2010.  Web.  25 May 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"What Is Better for Environmental Protection Conservation Preservation or Both?."  October 26, 2010.  Accessed May 25, 2019.