Fundamentals of Conservation Biology, 3 edition
What Is Conservation?
Since the beginning of humanity people have been concerned about their environment and especially its ability to provide them with food, water, and other resources.
As our numbers have grown and our technology has developed, we have become increasingly concerned about the impact we are having on our environment. Newspapers herald the current issues:
■ “Conservationists call for tighter fishing regulations.”
■ “Ecologists describe consequences of warmer climates.”
■ “Environmentalists criticized by chemical industry.”
■ “Preservationists want more wilderness.”
They also reveal an ambiguous terminology. Are we talking about conservation or preservation? Are the issues ecological or environmental? Students deciding which university to attend and which major to select are faced with a similarly bewildering array of choices – soil and water conservation, environmental studies, natural resource management, conservation biology, wildlife ecology, human ecology, and more – that intertwine with one another and often cut across traditional departmental and disciplinary lines. In this chapter we will try to resolve these ambiguities by examining how they are rooted in human history and ethics. To start on common ground we will briefly examine some of the differences and similarities among conservationists, preservationists, environmentalists, and ecologists. In the second part of the chapter we will see where conservation biology fits into this picture.
A conservationist is someone who advocates or practices the sensible and careful use of natural resources. Foresters who prudently manage forests, hunters and fishers who harvest wild animal populations sustainably, and farmers who practice the wise use of soil and water are all conservationists. Citizens who are concerned about the use of natural resources are also conservationists, and they often assert that the activities of foresters, fishers, farmers, and other natural resource users are not prudent, sustainable, or wise. In theory arguments over who is, or is not, a conservationist should turn on the issue of what is sensible and careful. In practice, the foresters, farmers, ranchers, etc. have largely ceded the title “conservationist” to their critics. They have become reluctant to call themselves conservationists and instead use the word to describe the people they consider adversaries.
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