When we take a look at the various natural environments around the United States, we will likely see them classified as conservation use or preservation use.
Conservation means allocating a certain level of environmental protection by mitigating the use of resources and minimizing ecological human footprints. Preservation means leaving the environment completely untouched for the sake of retaining natural beauty and allowing biodiversity to flourish.
These two primary environmental ideologies can tend to have some overlap here and there, as they both aim to protect the environment from human development. The biggest difference between them is that conservation allows for a bit more flexibility when it comes to utilizing the environment for either economic gain, harvesting natural resources, or simply outdoor recreation. Preservation on the other hand is not as flexible and is fundamentally rooted in preventing as much human damage to the environment as possible.
Conservation and preservation have been practiced within the United States for over a century and are carried out by organizations such as the National Park’s Service, the Wilderness Society, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, conservation and preservation efforts are commonly associated with laws and regulations that are implemented by your state and local government.
During the early 20th century, mass colonization and industrialization spread across the United States at a rampant pace, which resulted in a massive contribution to economic prosperity.
However, at this time, environmental values were a new concept and were not practiced and adopted by society.
The lack of conscientious development and the large-scale depletion of natural resources during this time period is what started a shift in thinking on how humans view the natural world, which led to the creation of the conservation and preservation movements. Since people were beginning to appreciate nature on a whole new level, individuals began raising concerns as to how to approach our nation’s natural wonders.
These concerns led to the birth of the Conservation Movement. This dynamic environmental practice encourages the sustainable practice of resource utilization and outdoor recreation through a balanced level of human involvement. Ultimately, conservationists believed that we should utilize our environment but do so in a way that does not jeopardize the ecological benefits of nature.
Today, conservation practices can be found throughout our society in so many different fields, industries, and government regulations. In fact, the practice of conservation and sustainable living has never been more popular than now - with everyday people adopting lifestyle choices that adhere to environmental values and green living.
Let’s dive into some of the ways that we practice environmental conservation in our society.
A rooted fundamental in all environmental practice is protecting our natural habitats.
Habitat protection is an ecological practice that can be found in both conservation and preservation, but to different degrees, standards, and approaches. As stated above, conservation comes with a bit more flexibility regarding human involvement in the environment.
Throughout the United States, we will see millions of acres of conservation lands that have some form of regulations set in place to sustain the ecological value of the area. With that being said, the level of protection can greatly vary depending on the parcel of land.
This is due to the different levels of endangerment for different species across our nation. Human involvement has affected some species significantly more than others, which is where the dynamics of conservation come into play.
Conservationists and environmental scientists are sent out into the field to survey and analyze the health of various habitats. They then conduct a report that establishes the health of the habitat, which results in revised regulations and restrictions for the area.
Here are some ways that conservationists prevent habitat loss.
Given the vast amount of land that we have in the United States, one of our major industrial assets has always been timber. The timber and logging industry has amounted to millions of acres of forested lands being stripped for resources through deforestation.
The problem with deforestation is that it not only destroys the natural aesthetic of much of our cherished landscapes, it also jeopardizes the livelihoods of countless plant and animals species that are dependant on this ecosystem.
The establishment of designated conservation lands that mitigate or strictly prohibit deforestation has become a much wider accepted environmental standard, which ensures the protection of habitat.
However, logging is still a practice that is carried out irresponsibly throughout the United States and much of the world. These are some ways to encourage responsible forestation:
- Responsible logging
- Strict government regulation and enforcement
- Lowering use of paper goods
- Donate and support forestation organizations
This practice is especially abused in the Amazon Rainforest, which is the most biodiverse place on the planet and has earned the title - the lungs of our planet. The Amazon Rainforest is currently undergoing an epidemic of logging that has been ongoing for years.
There is no resource more important on this planet for our existence, as well as the existence of millions of species than water. A major area that we have seen habitat destruction is in our freshwater ways, as well as our oceans.
This environmental catastrophe has become much more apparent in the last few decades due to the economic efficiency of industrialization. While the levels of impact do vary depending on the type of water ecosystem, the cause of the issue has much of the same source - humans.
To understand this better, let’s take a look at some of the actions we’ve taken to put these habitats at risk.
Freshwater species are at high risk in many areas across the United States due to a variety of human practices. These freshwater ecosystems are essential for not only aquatic species but also land species as well - including us.
The primary reason our aquatic habitats are being put at risk is due to pollution. Industries tend to disregard their level of pollutants due to the capitalistic mindset of putting profit before the environment.
This has led countless freshwater habitats to become polluted; putting habitats and species at risk - at times to a catastrophic point to where the damage is irreversible. Let’s take a look at some of the ways pollution enters our freshwater ways:
- Toxic waste
- Fecal waste
Efforts by conservationists and environmental activists have brought pollution and the risks it brings to both aquatic and land species to mainstream attention. This awareness has led to laws and regulations being put in place on big industries, as well as allocating freshwater channels that are strictly protected.
An unfortunate burden our oceans need to carry is that the majority of our waste tends to end up inside it in one way or another. Whether it be the eventual flow of pollutants within our freshwater channels making their way there or our deliberate dumping of waste directly into the ocean - habitats and species are being put at risk.
This has been caused by the following pollutants entering the sea:
- Industrial waste
- Agricultural waste
- Oil spills
Conservationists are urging the responsible handling of all pollutants entering our ocean to protect millions of species that depend on this vital habitat for their survival.
However, environmental activists are saying that industrial fishing is as much to blame for the habitat destruction and species decline in our oceans. As the fishing industry has evolved so has its efficiency for increasing the amount of catch, which has resulted in fish species moving towards dangerously low population levels.
This has come from not only the level of overfishing taking place but also due to the careless nature of how it’s practiced. Conservationists are pointing at the waste pollution coming from industrial fishing - from things like fishing nets - as being one of the most damaging pollutants within the ecosystem.
A stark difference between preservation and conservation is how each environmental practice views the harvesting of resources.
Conservationists believe that resources should be harvested for human benefit in a way that is sustainably balanced and is done in as efficient a way as possible. How we have approached this over the years has evolved greatly, as our energy needs have changed, our environmental values have strengthened, and so has our knowledge of how human involvement affects the health of our planet.
With that being said, humans are completely dependent on resources to sustain our energy needs as well as our lifestyle needs. However, the degree of our environmental footprint for harvesting resources can be greatly mitigated depending on the resources that we utilize, as well as the amount of them that we harvest.
To understand how conservation plays into utilizing the different resources we use in our society, let’s take a look at some common non-renewable and renewable energy sources.
Until just recently, the only primary source of energy that we used came from harvesting non-renewable resources.
At one point, discovering these energy sources was groundbreaking and led to many achievements in modern standards of living. While non-renewable energy sources are still highly valued and needed in our society, they are in direct contrast to the movement of conservation and environmental protection.
Unfortunately, harvesting these resources is not as clean and efficient as we would like. Non-renewable energy rarely, if ever, can be harvested and utilized without leaving a major or catastrophic impact on our environment; resulting in pollution, habitat destruction, and the emission of greenhouse gasses.
The common non-renewable energies we harvest are:
- Nuclear energy
- Natural gas
A major push against the use of these energy sources in recent years has stemmed from their direct impact on the climate crisis, which is a global threat to all of humanity and much of all life on this planet.
To combat this, conservation-backed legislation has pushed the implementation of a carbon tax on industries nationwide. This penalizes industries and businesses that overuse environmentally unsound resources by forcing them to pay an additional tax once breaching a certain threshold.
The end goal of this is to have net-zero emissions within the United States by the year 2050. This is part of a group effort of Western Countries around the globe to achieve a similar result with international treaties like The Paris Agreement.
The rise of renewable energy has been revolutionary for sustainable living and is highly encouraged within the conservation movement.
The concept of clean energy has felt more like a pipe dream for many of us until just recently - with the efficiency and practicality of technologies associated with this energy source advancing significantly.
Renewable energy offers us a multitude of environmental benefits such as securing the health of our ecosystems by non-invasive resource harvesting. In addition, renewable energy sources are a far better approach for dealing with the climate crisis, as the amount of greenhouse gasses created from clean energy is a fraction of the number of non-renewables.
Let’s take a look at the most common renewable energy sources we utilize:
- Solar energy
- Wind energy
- Wave energy
There is no greater threat to life on this planet than the climate crisis, which is why making the national and global transition to renewable energy is a focal point of the current conservation movement.
A major part of conservation has to do with the food we eat and how we harvest it.
It’s easy to forget that something as simple as food can have such a major impact on the environment. We often think of farming the way it had been practiced throughout all of our history - a humble small farm that is a valued and a needed part of the community.
Traditionally speaking, this was the case. This, however, changed greatly during the 20th century due to the practice of industrial farming. This period was revolutionary for farming, as we developed technologies that were far more efficient for food production and harvesting than we had ever seen before.
It was this groundbreaking approach to food growing that many huge industrial farms began to swallow up more and more small farms, which has led to just a few major corporations being in charge of practically all of our food.
While the results of industrial-scale farming appeared revolutionary at the time, it was only after decades of this practice that we began to see and feel the real repercussions of this approach.
Let’s take a look at how conservation plays into our farming.
Soil Degradation & Water Pollution
Unless put under a microscope, it’s easy to forget that the very soil that produces our food is in itself a type of ecosystem. And much like any ecosystem, it requires a sustainable balance to stay healthy, which is where the destruction of industrial farming was first experienced.
A common practice of industrial farming has been to depend on a single type of crop to be planted and harvested per farm. This seemed like a more efficient way to grow food but in reality, it ended up having a catastrophic impact on the health of our soil.
When farmers depend on just a single crop for their entire harvest - year after year - the nutrients within the ground are being depleted at a very fast pace, which leads to land degradation.
What occurs in this process is a single crop being dependant on a single primary resource within the soil and using up all of it over a period of time. Just like within an ecosystem, taking away one link in the chain puts the entire ecosystem at risk, which is precisely what happened with single-crop industrial farming.
The tragedy of such farming practices is that the harm created takes such a long time to be reversed. So much so, that the land can pretty much be considered useless for food growing at this point. Conservation is tied to farming, as it aims to mitigate or eliminate soil degradation. This is done by utilizing environmentally sound farming practices. Here are some of the practices implemented:
- Crop rotation - by diversifying the crops for each harvest cycle, farmers are able to have a balanced use of nutrients within their soil. This ensures that the land stays fertile for generations so that food yields can always stay consistent and plentiful.
- Mulching - this farming practice further enhances the nutrient value of the soil by adding organic materials such as sawdust, charcoal, wood chips, and dried leaves inside the soil as well as on top of it. This keeps organic materials breaking down in the soil and also works as an insulator for moisture and temperature control.
Another area that farming conservationists have targeted is the pollutant runoff from farms. This had never been a major problem until farms grew extremely large and began adopting the use of harmful chemicals.
Pesticides have commonly been used and abused to fight the evolving bugs and pests that target certain crops. The problem with this is that it is a short-term solution to the actual problem. Much like all living things, bugs and pests evolve. So, when a newer stronger pesticide is created to fight off the pests of the current harvest, the pests will adapt and evolve to be immune to the poison by the next harvest.
Aside from this having potential harm to humans, it becomes a major contributor to water pollution. It’s common to find these pesticides make their way into nearby rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, which can have a horrible effect on the health of the local ecosystem but also jeopardize a source of water for local communities.
To combat this, the following sustainable farming practice was initiated:
- Buffer strips - farmlands can be seen with dividing land strips that separate each crop area from one another. These buffer strips act as protective barriers that prevent harmful runoff from the farm and filter down the pollutants that flow from runoff.
As we continue to study the effects that farming has on our environment, we are able to discover newer ways to conservatively grow our food.
Recycling & Composting
Two conservation efforts we see commonly practiced and adopted in western society are recycling and composting.
The need for these household conservation practices became far more necessary as we began to create large amounts of waste that are not biodegradable. In addition, we have waste that is biodegradable but not always disposed of properly.
Since conservation is all about mitigating as much harm caused to the environment by humans through societal behavior, recycling and composting is one of the most utilized conservation practices that people accept on a day-to-day basis.
To start, let’s look at recycling.
Unfortunately, there is still so much we need to do to mitigate the harm caused by non-biodegradable consumeristic materials.
While alternatives to much of our waste products do exist, it’s not currently realistic to eliminate our entire environmental footprint in this fight. This is where recycling comes into play.
Conservation efforts have amounted to a more responsible and environmentally sound waste management system for materials such as plastics, tin & aluminum cans, and glass.
Many of these commonly used goods can be marked with a number that signifies the worth it has for being recycled. By responsibly disposing of our recyclable waste we encourage the continuation of conservation and sustainable living. While this can be easily practiced at home by everyday citizens, it’s just as important for industries and corporations to adhere to such standards.
Whether you are doing lawn work, maintaining your home garden, or clearing out organic food waste, composting is a great way to practice conservation at home and on an industrial scale.
When throwing organic materials such as dried leaves, mowed grass, or unfinished leftovers directly into the trash, we deprive the planet of nutrients that could have easily gone back into the earth.
Instead, the organic waste is left to rot in a plastic trash bag in a landfill where it will have no environmental value, which is why composting the waste is always a good idea. You will likely have a designated trashbin to throw your compost in or you can do so yourself at home.
If you have the space for a home garden or simply have plants that you take care of, you can always create your own compost bin and find a space within your backyard to store your organic waste and let it break down on its own. You can then utilize this organic waste as a fertilizer for your garden and plants.
Another area of conservation that is becoming more popularized is the conversion of privately owned lands to conservation easements.
What this essentially entails is that private land that is deemed worthy of having significant environmental qualities, will become officially classified as conservation land that is protected for life. This sort of conservation effort is being carried out by private landowners, non-profit land trusts, as well as state and federal governments.
The way this process works is when a landowner goes through an approval process where their property is evaluated for environmental significance such as essential habitat, at-risk and endangered species, or vital natural resources.
If the conservation appraiser finds your land has these qualities, your property will be approved for the easement, which will entail restrictions relating to your property rights to ensure the protection of the land’s ecological value.
Hunting & Fishing
A classic American pastime ingrained in our society is hunting and fishing.
Contrary to preservationism, conservationism does have an allowance for hunting and fishing so long as this practice is carried out within the environmental restrictions and guidelines in place for the area.
What some environmentalists have argued is that hunting, in particular, can be extremely harmful to ecosystems. However, if done so responsibly in adherence to conservation guidelines, it can actually be beneficial to the ecosystem.
Not only does the funding from hunting fees and licenses directly go to conservation work, but it can also be helpful for controlling the population of certain species like deer and elk, which can prove to become pests and cause ecological harm when overpopulated.
With that being said, hunting and fishing can have a negative impact on the environment, as it does often happen that this practice is not carried out responsibly. If lands become over-hunted or overfished, this disrupts the entire ecosystem. In addition, many hunters and fishermen do not adhere to the restrictions in place and violate a series of different rules pertaining to local conservation.
When assessing the end goals of conservation or preservation, we can see that both practices aim to benefit the environment. Where preservation stands out is that it has a far more radical approach and stricter implementation when in place.
A good way to view preservation is that it is much like conservation but simply taken to a higher level of protection. In fact, we will often see preservation being utilized in much of our conservation lands that have been highly valued for their natural beauty, essential habitat, or endangered species.
It’s important to remember that, much like conservation, preservation does also pertain to our individual lifestyle choices - aside from the direct protection of lands and resources.
Let’s dive into some of the ways that we practice preservation.
The practice of preservationism was pioneered by a legendary environmentalist by the name of John Muir. It was Muir that essentially created the Conservation Movement through his activism by proposing that much of our natural wonders should be left alone in their entirety without the slightest human interference.
This was a very radical idea when it was first proposed in the early 20th century, to say the least, as it was a concept few had ever considered prior. Muir’s passion inspired many to hold value in his philosophy, which laid the foundation for much of the truly preserved lands that we have held onto to this day.
With that being said preservationists hold strong to the ideology that much of the natural world - especially the most unique and beautiful aspects of it - should be left alone from any form of human development. Conservationists also believe in retaining such natural beauty in society, but with less emphasis on the level of human activity; conservationists believe the natural beauty of lands should be molded in some regard and utilized.
Protected lands can be found all over the United States with different classifications and different levels of protection. These will commonly be labeled as conservation lands.
It’s important to realize that a good amount of conservation lands are actually preservation lands. The way you can distinguish this is by evaluating the level of protection in place on the land.
As opposed to more common conservation lands, preservation lands will likely have very strict guidelines as to how and when you can access the land - if at all.
Here are some examples of lands that are generally designated for preservation:
- National Parks
- State Parks
- National Monuments (that don’t allow hunting)
- Wilderness Areas
When you access areas like these, you will see an entirely preserved piece of nature that has little to zero modification by humans. While preservation aims to have no trace of human interference, a small compromise is made for outdoor recreational access.
The prospect of harvesting resources with preservationism is a bit of a slippery slope. Since harvesting natural resources will always leave some form of an environmental footprint, the golden rule with preservation as opposed to conservation is not to make harvesting more efficient but rather to mitigate or completely eliminate the process altogether.
While preservationism has a very specific and extreme ideology, as far as human interference, the idea full embodying this environmental practice can be next to impossible and will generally require a certain level of compromise.
With that being said, we still rely on the following resources through preservation:
Where preservation draws a fine line is our dependency on non-renewable resources, which are only vital for society given our reliance on them. That is why renewable energy sources such as solar and wind have been particularly revolutionary for preservation, as we have finally discovered a way to harvest energy with a significantly smaller footprint.
A preservationist value that plays into resource management is how we as people approach our daily diets.
It’s easy to forget just how much resources are required to grow our food. This particularly affects the depletion of our most valuable resource - water.
Our food requires a lot of water to be produced. So much so, that agriculture uses more water than any other product in the world - especially meat and animal products.
Preservationism entails that individuals should significantly lower or eliminate their consumption of food products that require a large amount of water to produce. The best way to adjust to preservation values is to adopt a diet that has a variety of plant-based foods.
The Five Rs
The 5 Rs are refuse, reuse, repurpose, reduce, and recycle. While this is a common approach tied into conservation, preservation embodies these values on a deeper level.
Since conservationists aim to simply mitigate human involvement in the natural world, there tends to be more of an emphasis on practices such as recycling.
Preservationism, on the other hand, tends to focus on a procedural approach to the 5 Rs.
- Refuse - the first thing you should always do with lifestyle choices pertaining to environmental health is to refuse anything that will have a negative impact.
- Reuse - secondly, if you cannot refuse the lifestyle choice you should reuse the product. Since so much waste is accumulated by throwing out potential goods, a common practice is to reuse it. For example a water bottle.
- Repurpose - next you should try to find a way to repurpose the product. When thinking outside the box there are tons of creative ways to find alternative uses for daily goods. For example: repurposing a jar for a potted plant.
- Reduce - another key preservation practice is to simply reduce your intake of a certain product. You can do this by being a smarter shopper, rationing goods, or establishing a schedule/allowance for an amount you allow yourself to buy.
- Recycle - lastly, you should recycle your waste responsibly much like with conservation.
Embodying the 5 R’s is a fundamental lifestyle choice of any preservationist.
About THE AUTHOR
James Parker has a Masters degree in Sustainability with a focus on land management, permaculture and regenerative agriculture. He also has experience managing sustainability projects, and is passionate about conservation and sustainability.Read More About James Parker