Conservation vs. Preservation and Natural Regulation

Abstract:

Preservation and Conservation are two different theories regarding the management of natural resources.  In this paper, I examine the differences between the two theories, and discuss the manner in which the concept of natural regulation is featured.

recycleConservation versus Preservation

In the era of climate change and global warming, there is an increased interest in land management techniques.  Some experts are proponents of the preservation theory, which sets aside areas of natural resources in their pristine state, without intrusion or interference of man.  Other experts favor conservation practices, which seek to find a happy medium between responsible land management and protection of natural resources while permitting humans to enjoy that land in a variety of ways. 

The desire to preserve areas in their natural state can be driven by a desire to maintain refuges for animals and plants free of human interference and to keep species from the threat of extinction.  With the advent of the last twenty years of the housing boom, many natural areas have disappeared.  The point of preservationists is that there need to be certain aspects of the natural population that are never disturbed. 

The disagreement among naturalists arises from the methods of protection versus the actual concept of protection.  Some believe conservation of resources provides the best of all worlds.  Individuals can, for example, live in a subdivision, but the subdivision would be placed adjacent to natural forests, wetlands, or other natural areas of importance to the environment.  Within these wetlands and forests, a responsible construction of paths or observation platforms could permit the public to enjoy the natural areas without negatively impacting them.  The contrast in conservation theory versus preservation theory might best be described at the Texas Environmental Profiles Web site: 

In modern scientific usage conservation implies sound biosphere management within given social and economic constraints, producing goods and services for humans without depleting natural ecosystem diversity, and acknowledging the naturally dynamic character of biological systems. This contrasts with the preservationist approach which, it is argued, protects species or landscapes without reference to natural change in living systems or to human requirements.  (Conservation vs. Preservation, n.d.).

farm sunset sceneryUltimately, the philosophical differences involve the degree of involvement between humans and the land.  In preservation, it is thought that interference in the form of prescribed fire, forest harvesting, farming, hunting or fishing can cause great harm to the ecosystem, and argue that the land will take care of itself if left alone.  Conservationists approach natural resources management from a completely different perspective.    They want the interaction between man and land to become somewhat symbiotic.  The methods they use include education about the environment, sustainable practices that involve thinning of trees in a forest, replanting of seagrass beds and wetlands vegetation, and other methods designed to foster a greater appreciation for the function of the land. 

Preservationists argue that nature has the tools to maintain itself.  This philosophy can be called “natural regulation.”  Nothing is disturbed, removed, or replanted.  If it is depleted, it is for a reason necessary to maintain that particular aspect of the ecosystem.  Unfortunately, what has been seen when natural selection has been deployed as the governing policy is succession that may not be in the best interest of the land.  Farmland that was once prairieland, for example, would be abandoned and the land would be left to recover on its own.  What occurs is an initial succession of annual grasses, followed by perennial shrubs, and then larger trees.  The intent to preserve prairieland, then, would result in a forested area.  If this were the practice throughout the nation, there would be no prairieland, and the species dependent on that form of vegetation could disappear (Yeloff and van Geel, 2007 and Eberhart, 2007).

Another issue with preservation lies in the conservationist practice of prescribed fire for land management.  While preservationists will argue that the land will naturally take care of itself, whether with fire or not, conservationists argue that it is absolutely necessary to the propagation of certain species.  For example, long leaf pine trees need the extreme heat of a fire to release their seeds and propagate.  Pitcher plants also need the heat of fire to release their seeds.  Without fire, these species could become extinct (Harrison, 2003).

Perhaps there is a happy medium between conservation and preservation.  Rather than argue over the perfect method, scientists could find a way in which both could exist in different areas.  This might be a way to put the overall argument to rest.  Certain areas should be left without human interference, and others should be managed responsibly.  There is room for both in the management of our natural resources.


References

Conservations vs. Preservation: What’s the Difference? (n.d.) Texas Environmental Profiles.  Retrieved from http://www.texasep.org/html/lnd/lnd_5pub_cons.html on  March 30, 2009.

Harrison S., Inouye B.D., Safford H.D. (June 2003). Ecological Heterogeneity in the Effects of Grazing and Fire on Grassland Diversity (Abstract). Conservation Biology, 17:3. 837-845(9).  Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bsc/cbi/2003/00000017/00000003/art00027;jsessionid=h6s8f1vh6g9p.alice?format=print

Yeloff, D. and van Geel, B. (2007, February 26). Abandonment of farmland and vegetation succession following the Eurasian plague pandemic of ad 1347–52 (Abstract). Journal of Biogeography. 34:4, 575 – 582. Retrieved from http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/117963920/abstract                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2006.01674.x

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