Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Debate over the Purpose of Conservation Heats Up

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Debate over the Purpose of Conservation Heats Up

Article excerpt

Who is conservation for? The debate over this age-old question has recently taken a surprising and unfortunately acrimonious turn. The feud between those in conservation who believe that nature should be protected for its own sake, or its "intrinsic" value, and those who believe that we should conserve nature to help man, or for the "instrumental" value of nature, has broken into the open in an embarrassingly public squabble. The January issue of Parks & Recreation Magazine provided background on how the issue has been brewing and its relevance to public parks and recreation (www. parksandrecreation.org/2014/January/Who-is-Conservation-For).

Clearly the issues about who conservation benefits have not been resolved, and as the debate has intensified and become more personal, there is a growing fear that the continuing arguments are harming the cause of conservation by chilling potential grantors and driving students away from entering a field that has become so divisive.

The simmering dispute was brought to a head recently with the publication of a commentary in the November 2014 journal Nature (www. nature, com/news / working-together-a-call-for-inclusive-conservation-1.16260) by two highly respected ecologists, Heather Tallis of the Nature Conservancy and Jane Lubchenco, former administrator of NOAA who is now at Oregon State University. In their commentary, cosigned by 238 other respected scientists, ecologists and biologists, the pair calls out colleagues in the field for their uncompromising stance and the increasingly vitriolic dialogue over the question of why we should conserve natural resources.

Tallis and Lubchenco identify two sets of voices, namely the proponents of instrumental value and the proponents of intrinsic value. The instrumental value point of view is espoused by those who believe that protecting nature for its own sake has not slowed the loss of habitat or the extinction of species, and that the only prudent course of action is to directly couple conservation efforts with the goals of business, industry and agriculture, which will encourage more support for protecting what matters to people. They argue we should not worry about protecting all of nature for nature's sake.

Conversely, Tallis and Lubchenco identify the proponents of intrinsic value as those who believe that protecting nature for its own sake is right and proper and that partnering with business, industry or big agriculture is a craven sell-out, for it is those very industries that have led to species extinction and widespread loss of critical habitat. According to the intrinsic value point of view, protecting nature and all species within it for their own sake, even those that have no apparent value to man, is sufficient reason to promote the cause of conservation.

Tallis and Lubchenco decry the present state of affairs and forcefully call for an end to the destructive debate that is raging among a small minority of mostly men within academia, institutions and organizations. They advocate for the adoption of a big-tent philosophy that allows for acceptance of both views according to the context, and which addresses needs that align with the values of promoting diverse points of view. …

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