Academic journal article Environmental Values

Naturalness or Biodiversity: Negotiating the Dilemma of Intervention in Swedish Protected Area Management

Academic journal article Environmental Values

Naturalness or Biodiversity: Negotiating the Dilemma of Intervention in Swedish Protected Area Management

Article excerpt


Whether and how to intervene in nature to maintain or restore values is a contested issue among scholars within ecological restoration, protected area management and environmental ethics, but also among the practitioners and public officials who shape how nature is actually managed. This article analyses how the issue of intervention is debated in the case of protected forest area management in Sweden, a country with a traditionally strong preservationist discourse centred on maintaining areas as 'untouched' as possible. The analysis shows how this traditional view is challenged by a more interventionist discourse centred on adaptive management for biodiversity, but also how there are still attempts to reaffirm a preservationist discourse and practice. The implications of this as-yet-unsettled debate are discussed, concluding by pointing to a need to examine critically not only the older preservationist discourse and 'naturalness', but also the ascendant interventionist discourse and 'biodiversity'.


Ecological restoration, forest, discourse analysis, policy analysis, preservationism


Sweden is a country whose long preservationist tradition emphasising pristine, 'untouched' nature has been described as remaining strong within the conservation bureaucracy throughout the twentieth century (Mels 2002).

Still, when the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented a draft strategy for the conservation management of forests in protected areas (Naturvardsverket 2010) that reflected a preservationist outlook, it met with fierce opposition from colleagues in implementing authorities, denouncing the proposal as unbalanced at best and unscientific, lacking in legal support and harmful to biodiversity at worst. The fact that the seemingly innocuous issue of how to manage protected areas caused such an uproar may indicate that it had taken on an 'emblematic' function (Hajer 1995), coming to stand for the bigger problematic of the goal of conservation: what values in nature are we protecting and, particularly, how are those values affected by human intervention?

In this article, I analyse the debate around the management of protected forest areas in Sweden against the backdrop of related debates within ecological restoration, protected area management and environmental ethics. The aim is to add to these literatures by a focus on the dynamics of discursive change in a concrete policy context within conservation and the implications of how the ends and means of nature conservation are discursively articulated.

The article proceeds as follows. Section 2 gives a background to scholarly discussion on intervention in nature and central concepts such as 'naturalness' and 'biodiversity.' Section 3 argues for studying these issues in discursive terms and in actual policy debates, and presents the discourse-analytic tools used. Section 4 provides a background on Swedish protected area management and the case studied, followed by a description of the material in section 5 and an overview of the debate in section 6. In section 7, the articulations of key signifiers are analysed further, followed by an analysis of the structuring effects of the shared formats of the debate in section 8, before concluding in section 9 by pointing to a need to scrutinise not only preservationism and 'naturalness', but also 'interventionism' and 'biodiversity'.


Challenges to preservationism

A guiding principle has long been that protected areas are designated to preserve them in their pristine, natural state, uncorrupted by human activities. By implication, these areas can and should then be left to themselves. Such a 'preservationist' outlook rests on a number of assumptions regarding the human--nature relationship, how ecosystems work and how we conceptualise the value of nature.

One aspect is the underlying dualism of nature versus humanity where human activity is always diminishing nature, a dualism that may lead to logical contradictions and a deep pessimism (Cronon 1996, Vogel 2002). …

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