Land preservation and conservation tend to have some similarities for environmental protection, but there are also some stark differences to be aware of.
Land preservation at its core aims to completely prevent or greatly mitigate damage caused to nature by humans. Land conservation takes a more liberal approach towards the environment by utilizing nature in a way that creates minimal or moderate harm.
We currently live in a society that is trying to adopt progressive environmental habits by treating the natural world with respect, so that we can move towards a globally sustainable future. While land preservation and conservation have been around for over a hundred years, their mainstream implementation is still a relatively new concept for most people. This societal shift in perspective is leading to many new governmental policies and lifestyle changes by everyday citizens. Let’s explore the difference between land preservation and conservation to understand these environmental concepts better.
Both land preservation and conservation guidelines, policies, and regulations are enforced by the United States Government through organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Park Service. In addition, these practices are carried out by various land trusts, as well as environmental activist organizations.
The environmental practice of land preservation is the very reason why much of our nation, as well as the rest of the world, has been able to completely protect some of our planet’s most treasured natural wonders. Unlike land conservation, preservation aims to leave nature unphased and untouched from any human interference.
This concept was birthed at the start of the conservation movement by an environmental pioneer named John Muir. This preservation leader took notice of the wonders of the natural world and fought wholeheartedly to protect them from human development and destruction.
This was a truly revolutionary way of thinking at the time, as most people had never considered the concept of preserving the environment before. John Muir’s ideology has inspired millions of people around the world to preserve nature and keep it in its natural state. This was so contrary to the way people thought at the time, as industries, which depended on harvesting natural resources for economic prosperity, greatly opposed the practice.
While the implementation of preservation was not as widely adopted as John Muir had hoped for during his influential period, we see the practice of preservation utilized all over our nation through policies, regulations, and an overall shift in human values towards the environment. This practice is growing even more popular now with sustainable living gaining mainstream momentum around the globe. Here’s how we practice preservation in our society.
The ultimate goal of land preservation is to leave our lands and their attributes untouched by human development and interference. This goal, however, is easier said than done, as humans are highly dependant on their surrounding environment for survival, which can make achieving complete land preservation an extremely difficult goal.
Preservationists have taken such a harsh stance towards protecting the environment due to humans being notoriously careless when it comes to respecting nature, which is why there are very few areas in the United States that truly embody preservationist values to their core.
With that being said, there are a lot of guidelines and regulations which have led to millions of acres of land within our nation being designated for land preservation. These land preservation goals have led to the protection of the following:
Wildlife & Habitat
Since the colonization of the United States - followed by the Industrial Revolution, we have seen habitat destruction at a very large scale all over the country. This resulted in millions of acres of habitat being destroyed and countless species going instinct or endangered.
The goal of land preservation is to protect our wildlife and the vital habitats that they depend on. This can prove to be a delicate process for preservationists, as wildlife and their habitats can be extremely sensitive to even the slightest amount of human interference.
Preservationists make careful and calculated decisions when protecting wildlife and habitats by doing thorough environmental surveys of various ecosystems to determine the most pragmatic approach for achieving this goal.
In most cases, simply establishing an area that is under strict environmental protection will already be in line with a preservationist ideology, however, taking the extra step to better understand and study a local ecosystem will help us achieve long-term sustainability. To do this, environmental scientists assess the natural habitat and the species that depend on it.
After analyzing the local environment, preservationists will be able to determine not only the fragility of the local ecosystem but also the external impact that humans may be having on the area from things such as pollution and land degradation.
The appreciation of nature is something that is ingrained in our history and our culture, which is why a focal point of land preservation is to protect the natural beauty of our environment.
A past of deforestation, destructive farming practices, and invasive industrialization has caused us to lose millions of acres of our nation’s beautiful lands. It was easy to be blindsided by the economic prosperity of these practices, which caused us to disregard valuing the natural aesthetic of our country.
This took a turn with the rise of preservation, as a key goal of environmental pioneers was to adopt preservation for the purpose of leaving nature untouched so that people can experience and appreciate it for generations to come.
This is a fundamental aspect of land preservation, which has led to the protection of millions of acres of land throughout the United States - and much of the world.
One of the most common land resources that we take for granted is our soil. Most people have traditionally thought of soil as an abundant resource that can be utilized without limitation.
We found out the hard way that this is not true when we used and abused our nation’s soil during the rise of industrial farming. The technologies and farming techniques of an industrial approach to our food growing process led society to falsely think that food shortages would no longer be an issue for us.
This, unfortunately, was too good to be true, as it led to the destruction of a lot of our lands and the vital nutrients they hold. With that being said, there is very little room for industrial farming techniques within land preservation practices. However, we have found is that the best way to preserve our land’s soil is by keeping the food growing process as natural as possible.
The is achieved by utilizing organic farming techniques. This generally entails keeping farms relatively small and in places where there are few critical or highly valued ecological properties in the area. Organic farming conducted in this way significantly mitigates the impact that humans have on their surrounding environment, which enables land preservation to take place in areas that may have otherwise been affected by pollution caused by industrial farming.
A major reason why land preservation is not as widely adopted as conservation is due to the strict intolerance that this practice allows for resource harvesting. We live in a society where resources are a major part of our way of life and, unfortunately, there are some resources that we simply cannot live without.
Preservation was met with a lot of backlash from industries, politicians, and even regular people due to its radical view on how we can utilize our resources. Given that this environmental practice embodies an ideology that tries to eliminate all resource harvesting, it comes with a lot of limitations for people and the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to.
With that being said, a lot of what modern-day preservationists aim to achieve is not necessarily to cut out all resource harvesting altogether but to eliminate or strongly mitigate the damage that we cause to our environment through the process.
At one point this seemed to be an impossible prospect but as we move forward and continue to advance as a society, we are finding that harvesting resources with a preservationist mindset is becoming more and more within our reach. To understand this further, we are going to explore the different types of resources that fall in favor of preservationists.
The most available resource to us is our sun. This powerful and abundant resource creates more energy in a single day than every human being on the planet could use in a 24/hour cycle.
Our dependency on oil and natural gas led to a stagnation of developing this resource and making it our primary source of energy. Land preservationists tend to encourage the use of solar energy, as it has a minimal effect on our environment. This is often an energy resource that conservationists and preservationists see eye to eye on, as it allows us to utilize our environment while at the same time protect it.
With that being said, solar panels can take up a considerable amount of space and if not placed in proper locations, they can have a damaging effect, which is why they should be used in areas where there is little to no preservational significance.
A powerful runnerup for renewable energy is wind. By utilizing windmills in a responsible way, we are able to take care of our energy needs while at the same time greatly mitigate or eliminate our dependency on non-renewable resources, which are causing damage to the environment.
Much like with solar energy, wind power is also a bridge between preservation and conservation, as it can be implemented in a way that does not create much of an ecological footprint.
Where preservationists may object to wind power is if it is being used in a way that causes either severe harm to a local environment or disrupts the natural aesthetic of an area.
With that being said, it’s practically impossible to implement wind turbines in a natural area that does not cause some form of a human footprint, which is why we tend to put our wind turbines in areas that do not have much environmental significance such as large desserts or open plains.
By adopting wind as a primary resource, we are able to encourage land preservation by transitioning from our invasive non-renewable energy sources to clean and sustainable green energy.
Soil & Water
The bottom line is that harvesting just about any land resource goes against a lot of the fundamental values of preservation. Since this ideology prohibits harm being done to the environment - with a focus on keeping it in its natural state, it’s quite hard to achieve resource harvesting without leaving some form of a human footprint.
With that being said, a lot of the damage done to our environment comes from large-scale industries performing resource harvesting in an unsustainable way. This means that land resources get depleted or polluted at a much faster pace than when they are utilized on an individual level.
If vital land resources such as soil and water can be used by private individuals and small-scale communities in a way that does not cause harm to the overall environment, then this could be in line with a lot of preservationist values.
By having a small farm that practices organic farming with responsible food growing practices, the amount of damage caused to the soil at the end of the day is practically irrelevant. In addition, harvesting or utilizing freshwater for personal use or small-scale communities could also be done in a way to encourage preservation.
Land Preservation Areas
The areas within the United States that have been designated for land preservation are the most pristine, untouched, and beautiful locations that our country has to offer.
The establishment of land preservation has allowed our nation to be one of the outdoor capitals of the world - with more protected nature areas than almost any other country. These land preservation areas are not only there for outdoor recreation but also for ecological sustainability.
Let’s dive into some preservation areas.
The most monumental and iconic areas designated for land preservation within the United States are our national parks. The initial basis for starting preservation and conservation was to protect and preserve the natural beauty of our nature parks, which in turn started the National Park Service.
These incredible parks can be found scattered all over the nation and are the most environmentally protected lands that we have. Practicing land preservation in its full ideology is very hard to achieve and one of the few land areas where we implement this practice is in our national parks.
These parks have extremely strict guidelines and regulations that eliminate as much human interference as possible. In addition, these parks are carefully monitored by environmental scientists to ensure that preservation is a foundational value of these natural areas.
While our national parks are monitored with very strict land preservation guidelines, our state parks also embody a similar ideology. This is generally determined on a case-by-case basis but preservation is a key aspect of ensuring the protection of our state parks.
The level of preservation in state parks has a lot to do with the state itself, as each state is allowed to establish its own level of environmental protection for its parks.
With that being said, you will find that most state parks are in line with preservation guidelines and have little to no tolerance for invasive human activities. This will include things like habitat protection, resource management, and prohibiting private developments.
Other Preservation Areas
The United States has allocated millions of conservation lands that fall under preservation values. While the majority of these can be easily identified as being part of a national or state park, some preservation areas don’t have such an official title.
With a country as large as ours, our landscapes can vary greatly depending on the state and region they are in. Most landscapes that have little to no environmental significance are simply left untouched, which essentially means that they have been established for a certain level of preservation. You can find these land preservation areas here:
- Wildlife Reserves
- Wilderness Areas
- Protected Landscapes
In addition, you will find that a lot of our nation’s casual landscapes have been left relatively or completely untouched, which means that any natural area that has not been affected by humans also falls under preservation.
The environmental practice of land conservation is utilized far more commonly in our society. The key ideology of land conservation is to use our environment to better human society and our quality of life but to strike a balance between causing extreme harm to nature and leaving it completely untouched.
This makes land conservation a far more practical and attainable environmental practice than land preservation, as it is much easier to abide by. We have been implementing land conservation in our society for well over a century and continue to practice it heavily to this day.
In fact, land conservation has never been more popular and we are seeing a societal adaptation of more and more values that benefit environmental conservation. With that being said, the mainstream popularity of land conservation has really only begun to peak around the turn of the century.
This popularization has ignited a shift in how everyday citizens are perceiving their environment, which creates lifestyle changes that force industries and policymakers to adapt to our values. To understand land conservation better, let’s explore some of the goals attached to this environmental ideology.
Land Conservation Goals
Since land conservation allows a certain level of environmental utilization, this practice has much more flexibility than land preservation.
The overall goal of these two practices is synonymous - to protect the environment. Where land conservation tends to be more obscure is the level of environmental impact that this practice allows.
Land conservation goals vary depending on the environmental matter at hand, as some areas of conservation are extremely strict and some much more lose. This is generally determined by environmental scientists who conduct impact reports. Here are some of the goals of land conservation in our society.
A key area of land conservation is to mitigate the harm we cause to our lands through poor farming practices. Given the level of land degradation caused by industrial farming in the past, land conservation aims to mitigate as much environmental damage caused to our lands during the food growing process.
Destructive farming techniques that bring a big yield at the cost of severe damage being done to our soil are a poor investment for long-term sustainability. The biggest factor of this comes from not what we grow but how grow it.
There are a lot of techniques associated with farming that determine how well we are able to conserve our lands. By implementing these techniques and modernizing more efficient farming strategies, we are able to move closer to our land conservation goals. Here’s how:
- Crop Rotation - when we don’t rotate our crops after harvest cycles we deplete the nutrients within our soil permanently. A good way to prevent this is to simply change the crops we plant after each harvest cycle to ensure that soil nutrients stay abundant and healthy.
- Mulching - by placing organic materials within our soil and on top of it between harvest cycles, we can continue the breakdown of vital nutrients within our farmlands and ensure that they stay healthy.
- Buffer Strips - these long strips of vegetation are placed between crop areas to prevent erosion from occurring. In addition, they work as a barrier and filter, which prevents or mitigates harmful runoff from the farm.
Practicing large-scale farming operations without any human impact is impossible. However, these farming strategies are a major boost for conserving our lands and protecting our environment.
In addition, land conservation for farms can also be pursued by modernizing certain technologies that are utilized during farming - most importantly water. By using more energy-efficient farming equipment, we can mitigate the level of harm caused to our environment and through the process conserve vital resources.
If there is one thing that truly drives environmental destruction caused by humans it’s our dependency on resources. In the past, we gave little to no thought as to how our consumption of natural resources affected our planet, which is why land conservation has a major focus on protecting our resources and mitigating our dependency on them.
We have found out the hard way that our reliance on resources is not only causing harm to our local environment but actually to the entire planet. A major aspect of this has to do with not only what resources we use but how we use them.
As technology advances and our primary resources begin to shift from non-renewables to clean energy, the prospect of conserving land resources will become a very realistic goal. While this transition is inevitable, we haven’t quite gotten there yet, which is why simply mitigating our current use is the best way to conserve them.
Let’s take a look at the various land resources that we conserve in our society.
Oil & Natural Gas
To this day the majority of the world is highly dependant on oil and natural gas to fuel everything from their cars to their economies.
While this resource has been revolutionary during the last century, it’s becoming more and more clear that it is outdated. The oil and natural gas industry has led to an enormous amount of greenhouse gases in our planet’s atmosphere, which is a huge problem for our fight against the climate crisis.
To mitigate our carbon footprint, consumers are favoring more energy-efficient vehicles, which are oftentimes hybrid cars or even fully electric. This is a fantastic way to help conserve land resources and lower our dependency on oil and natural gas.
In addition, our government is beginning to hop on the sustainable trends of society by initiating a carbon tax on businesses and industries. Conserving land resources can also be practiced at home by responsibly using grid energy.
This precious resource has been taken for granted by our society, as we have forgotten just how scarce it actually is and how vital it is for our survival.
A large part of this has occurred due to the illusion of this resource being plentiful. Whether it’s the abundance of fresh drinking water that flows through our taps or the overall perception of our blue, water-based planet.
Given that most water on our planet is not accessible to us, it’s crucial that we take measures to conserve this precious resource. We can achieve this through several large-scale societal adaptations, as well as individual lifestyle changes.
Given that large-scale industries such as farming have been responsible for so much water mismanagement and pollution, holding these industries accountable and forcing them to adopt more sustainable water practices is the most important measure we can take for conserving water.
In addition, simply changing how we use water at home can be a huge boost in this fight. By taking shorter showers or revamping at home water use, we can all take part in conserving this scarce land resource.
Human waste is a major threat to land conservation and is responsible for large-scale pollution across the entire planet.
This became particularly apparent during the mid-20th century, as humans began using plastics and single-use items. After decades of poor waste management, we have seen this cause pollution to our lands and freshwater channels, which has led to habitat destruction and resource contamination.
Land conservation aims to mitigate the amount of waste that humans cause by implementing more efficient waste management systems, in addition to changing the materials we use for our most harmful waste products. Let’s take a look at how we can conserve our level of waste:
- Recycling - by properly recycling trash that we use such as plastic bottles and aluminum cans, we can conserve our level of waste by reusing the materials used to make these items.
- Composting - instead of throwing away organic materials in a normal trash can, you can instead dispose of them in your compost bin so that they can be taken to a facility that will break down the organic material. Alternatively, you can start your own at-home composting pit.
In addition, a more modern approach towards harmful waste items that are commonly used is to create single-use items that are biodegradable. For example, paper straws and wooden utensils.
With that being said, one of the largest threats towards conserving our waste has been big industries. These large-scale industries tend to create much more harm by dumping large amounts of waste into our environment, which can often even be toxic. Creating policies that hold them accountable will be essential for land conservation.
An area of focus for modern land conservation is to create development projects that have a much smaller environmental footprint.
In the past, we have carelessly built cities, homes, and infrastructure in a way that completely disregards the environment. This caused a lot of damage to our lands and resulted in the loss of habitat, resource contamination, and pollution.
Land conservation encourages development that is less invasive and is instead built with consideration for the surrounding environment. This is achieved by pursuing development projects that are less destructive and eco-friendly. Here are some ways to conserve land through responsible development:
- Green Buildings
- Energy Efficient Homes
- Conscientious Infrastructure
This new land conservation trend is enabling us to re-envision the way that we plan our cities and urban areas so that we can create living spaces that conserve our resources and mitigate the level of harm we cause to our environment.
Land Conservation Areas
We can find various natural areas around the United States that have been specifically designated for conservation use. There are currently millions of acres of land around our country that fall under some level of conservation protection.
With that being said, the level at which the land is protected has a lot to do with the environmental qualities and significance of the land. You will find that areas that are highly valued for either natural resources or natural beauty tend to have a higher level of conservation protection. Whereas land areas that lack significant environmental qualities will generally be more flexible.
Let’s explore some of the different land conservation areas within the United States.
Throughout the United States, you will find that we have a lot of land areas that are classified as national forests. These public conservation lands are owned by the federal government and fall under relatively strict environmental protection.
These public lands are conserved by prohibiting human development and by mitigating the level of human interference allowed on them. National forests are generally in scenic areas and may even be connected to national parks and are great places for outdoor recreation.
However, unlike national parks, which fall under preservation guidelines, national forests are much more likely to be utilized for natural resources. The most common way these lands are utilized is for logging.
National forests follow a sustainable level of deforestation on a regular basis so that these largely unused lands can serve a purpose to society. The amount of logging is regulated in accordance with land conservation guidelines.
To mitigate the destructive privatization of natural lands, land conservationists are buying up properties with the intention of converting them to private conservation lands.
These lands fall under various land conservation restrictions and are generally protected for life under environmental guidelines. The way this occurs is when a private individual or private land trust acquires property, which then goes through an appraisal process to certify it as conservation land.
Conservation easements can commonly be found on farmland, scenic landscapes, and even private residences. The most common reason that a conservation easement is put in place is to protect land resources or the overall natural beauty of an area.
With that being said, it’s possible for conservation easements to fall under a preservation ideology depending on the level of environmental protection in place on the property.
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