The Physical Geography of North America

By Antony R. Orme | Go to book overview

25
Environmental Management and Conservation
Mark A. Blumler

We have met the enemy, and he is us

—Pogo

Environmental management and conservation is an enormous topic, encompassing a huge and ever-expanding list of issues, controversies, and debates over both science and policy. Some topics, such as soil erosion, are covered elsewhere in this volume, but an inordinately long list remains. Consequently, this chapter cannot be comprehensive. Instead, it focuses on biological resources and conservation, and emphasizes those aspects that I find illuminating or exemplary—notably the profound influence of changing paradigms over the past century or so, and the interplay among science, environmentalism, and policy as it has played out over North American landscapes. The general historical outline of environmental management and conservation is well known, though its interpretation is a matter of contentious debate; a brief review follows. There are some excellent treatments of the history of environmental thought and policy (e.g., Glacken, 1967; Botkin, 1990), and others that, though less judicious, contain much relevant information. In addition, excellent regional or otherwise more narrowly focused studies exist (e.g. Cronon, 1983; Botkin, 1995). But given the emotionally charged nature of environmental debates, the highly idealistic, utopian attitudes of many scholars toward nature, and the generally dualistic quality of discourse in the Western world, it should not be surprising—in fact, it is entirely understandable—if there has been some distortion of the reality of North Americans' changing relationship with the environment. In this chapter, I offer my own interpretation. In particular, I emphasize that both the environmental movement and the science of ecology originated within the Western world and consequently have been strongly constrained by Western modes of envisioning reality. One outcome of this is a tendency in the environmental literature to view conservation as a contest between despoilers and conservers, that is, to blame others for environmental problems. In my view, we who call ourselves environmentalists are as culpable as anyone.

Geographically, most of my discussion and examples relate to the United States, although Canada and northern Mexico also are included within this volume's purview (extratropical North America). Like the United States, Canada and Mexico confront important environmental problems and have a long history of engagement with resource management and conservation. In addition, certain specific issues are of lesser concern to the United States than to one or the other of these countries, because of differences in natural resource availability, economic conditions, or environment. Nonetheless, it is difficult to

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