Environmental Conservation and Preservation: Definition, Differences & Advocates

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  • 0:44 Conservation of the…
  • 2:45 Preservation of the…
  • 4:32 Conservation vs. Preservation
  • 5:53 Conservation and Preservation
  • 7:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

Expert Contributor
Christianlly Cena

Christianlly has taught college physics and facilitated laboratory courses. He has a master's degree in Physics and is pursuing his doctorate study.

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 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.

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Additional Activities

Environmental Conservation and Preservation Writing Prompts

Prompt 1

Fishing activities conducted by foreign or local vessels operating in violation of the laws of the state is known as illegal fishing. This type of practice accounts for 26 million tons of fish annually. Illegal fishing is a catalyst for global overfishing and is a threat to marine ecosystems. Moreover, it places food security and regional stability at risk and is linked to major human rights violations and even organized crime such as dynamite and cyanide fishing.

  1. From a conservationist's viewpoint, what would be the best thing to do regarding global overfishing?
  2. From a preservationist's standpoint, what would be the best thing to do regarding marine ecosystems?

Prompt 2

Joaquin, an environmentalist, was invited as a guest speaker at a natural resources conference. In his speech, he explained that there is a dwindling supply of natural resources such as water worldwide. It is due to constraints, such as urbanization, industrialization, and climate change. In figures, approximately 70% of available water is used for crop irrigation. Its inadequacy, combined with a growing population, poses a challenge that must be overcome. According to Joaquin, this can be solved by doubling food production while consuming less water. Communities and authorities must also work together to ensure adequate water supply to meet future needs by giving funding and protecting watersheds. In this scenario, identify which of Joaquin's statements refers to the conservation and the preservation of natural resources, respectively.

Sample Answers

Prompt 1

  1. A conservationist would call for sustainable use and management of these aquatic resources. One way to do this is by imposing stricter rules on state jurisdiction and sanctions on those that fish illegally.
  2. A preservationist would advocate for funding and maintenance of marine ecosystems to keep it in their pristine form. An example of this is building and protecting fish sanctuaries.

Prompt 2

The statement about doubling food production while consuming less water signifies the conservation of natural resources. On the other hand, the statement ''to ensure adequate water supply to meet future needs by giving funding and protecting watersheds'' implies the preservation of reservoirs and watersheds.

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