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  • Jessica Randall

Hello Conservationists and Preservationists!

Updated: Sep 5, 2019

Wait a sec! What’s the difference between the two?

My son, who learned it in his Environmental Studies class, described this to me. First, conservationists protect the natural world in order to maintain their human interests. They are more concerned about protecting nature’s use. For example, “Let’s not kill all of the elk in the Olympic Peninsula because we like to hunt them in November.” Preservationists protect the natural world because of its innate right to survive and thrive. They protect nature from use, rather than for use. For example, “Let’s not kill all of the elk because they have a right to live and a role in the ecosystem that is more important than my entertainment needs.”

The Olympic Peninsula is built largely on conservation, rather than preservation. Each political battle won by environmentalists to preserve what is now the Olympic National Park, was largely done through the arguments of conservation. It was simply the only way to influence politicians to side with nature instead of industry. We have a handful of conservationist presidents. The ones directly responsible for the Olympic National Park are Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. One of America’s most famous preservationists was John Muir, a large protector of Yosemite and other natural areas. Most environmentalists will first define themselves as conservationists, but on deeper reflection and further education, they find themselves leaning more toward preservation. I believe that conservation is now the same as preservation. I’ll explain.

Times are a-changing. Our natural world is suffering a little more each day. Species are going extinct, the sea is rising and the pH is dropping. We have learned a lot about the long-term negative effects of our lifestyle and behaviors: pollution, over-harvesting, the use of pesticides and herbicides, and so on. We have also learned a lot about the interconnectedness of our environment and the need for diversity. As we have grown into a society where the needs of industry outweigh the needs of nature, the result has brought us to the brink of environmental collapse. And as the environment collapses, we suffer with it. In other words, conservation is preservation.

The environmental movement is taking this concept into the form of “The Rights of Nature”. We are evolving our legislation to protect the bigger picture, to protect nature, which in turn will protect our species. “Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights. It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world. It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined.” This is the opening statement of The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. In the United States, we take rights very seriously, and unfortunately very slowly: first human rights, then corporate rights, and now the rights of nature. This movement will need to happen quickly to save our planet. We’re all in this together.

Thanks for being here.

~ Jessica Randall


Lien, Carsten (1991) Olympic Battleground: The Power Politics of Timber Preservation. San Francisco: Random House

Wohlleben, Peter (2019) The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things ― Stories from Science and Observation (The Mysteries of Nature Trilogy). Published in partnership with the David Suzuki Institute

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