Environmental Conservation and Preservation: Definition, Differences & Advocates

  • 0:44 Conservation of the…
  • 2:45 Preservation of the…
  • 4:32 Conservation vs. Preservation
  • 5:53 Conservation and Preservation
  • 7:09 Lesson Summary
Create An Account
To Start This Course Today
Used by over 10 million students worldwide
Create An Account
Try it free for 5 days
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham
This lesson will explain two views on how land can be managed and discuss famous supporters of each view. We will also explore examples of situations where the views are opposing each other and when they can be combined for the common good.

How to Manage Public Land

As the human population grows and grows, natural resources are being used at a rapid rate, and large areas of forest are being converted for human use. How do you think public land should be managed to deal with these types of environmental issues?

Over the years, there have been many opinions on how to manage public lands. Two of the major points of view include conservation and preservation of the environment. People often use these two terms interchangeably, when in fact they are two very different views and methods for managing land. Let's explore these two terms and how they vary from one another.

Conservation of the Environment

Some people believe that public land should be managed by the method of conservation, meaning that the environment and its resources should be used by humans and managed in a responsible manner. These types of people see the value of the environment as the goods and services that it can provide to people.

This viewpoint requires that the environment be used in a way that is sustainable, and it ensures that the natural resources will be used in a manner that will meet the present day needs for the resource without jeopardizing the supply of the resource for future generations.

By using the environment sustainably, the environment and the natural resources it provides will not be depleted or destroyed permanently - and will be available for human use for a very long time. If people do not manage the land properly and the resources are not being used sustainably, then the environment can be destroyed, and the conservation method will have failed.

Gifford Pinchot, who lived from 1865 to 1946, was a leader in the conservation movement. As the United States expanded and more land was being converted for human use, Pinchot was bothered by the method used in transforming the land. At the time, most forests were being clear-cut, which is when all of the trees are removed at the same time. Pinchot did not like this method because he saw the forest as a valuable resource of timber. He thought that it should be managed in a way that enabled human development of the land but also ensured use of the natural resources.

He later founded the organization that would become the U.S. Forest Service and served as chief of the organization while Theodore Roosevelt was president. While Pinchot was in charge, the federal government adopted the conservationist method for managing land and drastically increased the amount of land managed by the government.

Preservation of the Environment

On the other side of the argument of how to effectively manage public land are the preservationists. The method of preservation is much stricter than the conservationist approach. Under preservation of the environment, lands and their natural resources should not be consumed by humans and should instead be maintained in their pristine form. Preservationists believe that humans can have access to the land, but they should only utilize it for its natural beauty and inspiration. They think that the value of the land is not what you can use from it, but instead that land has an intrinsic value, meaning that it is valuable in itself simply by existing.

One of the most famous preservationists in U.S. history is John Muir. John Muir was a Scottish immigrant who lived from 1838 to 1914 and had a large admiration for California's Yosemite Valley. Similar to Gifford Pinchot, Muir was motivated by the deforestation and destruction of land as the human population moved west across the country. Muir was a strong advocate for the complete protection of land and believed that people should only use the environment for enjoyment and not as a resource for goods.

Muir was involved in the creation of The Sierra Club in 1892, which is an environmental organization that advocates for the preservation and protection of public lands. The influence of John Muir is still evident today through the continuation of The Sierra Club and the establishment of the Muir Woods National Monument, a preservation area of land in Northern California that is home to an ancient redwood forest.

Conservation vs. Preservation

The two views (conservation and preservation) have been at the center of many historical environmental debates, including the debate over the Hetch Hetchy water project. The Hetch Hetchy Valley is located in the northwest corner of Yosemite National Park, and in the early 1880s, the valley was being considered as a potential site for a reservoir. At the time, the city of San Francisco was growing and faced a shortage of water. With the damming of the river and the creation of a reservoir in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, it would be possible to supply ample drinking water to the people of the San Francisco area.

The Hetch Hetchy water project spurred a large debate between preservationists and conservationists. Preservationists, including John Muir, were fighting to keep the Hetch Hetchy Valley pristine and persuade law makers that the valley and its wilderness were valuable in their natural state.

On the other side of the argument were conservationists, led by Gifford Pinchot. They fought to have the river dammed and the valley flooded to create the reservoir so that it could provide a large amount of water to people in areas with limited water. Eventually, the demand for water outweighed the desire for pristine habitat, and the dam was built in the early 1900s.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member

Already a member? Log In

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 100 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,900 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Welcome to a video lesson! You now have full access to our video lessons, watch this video now if you are ready or keep exploring the other features you have available to you.
You've watched a video! Now you are officially smarter, check out the next video or take the quiz to keep learning.
You took a quiz! Getting a perfect score on a quiz is how you gain course progress. If you aced it, great job! If not, don't worry, you can try again.