What is Conservation?

What constitutes a conservation organization? With many of the recent events in the news (Harambe the gorilla shot at the Cincinnati Zoo; canned game hunts with outcomes such as the killing of Cecil the Lion and others), there have been arguments about whether organizations such as zoos or private game reserves should be considered conservation organizations or merely perverse entertainment.

While I am not ready to tackle that question (yet), I do think it’s important to take a step back and ask What Does it Mean to be a Conservation OrganizationWhat are the ultimate goals of conservation and how do organizations approach these goals?

Conservation is broadly defined as preservation, protection, restoration, and prevention of deterioration. This applies across vastly different scales, from individual species or specific habitats to global ecological webs. Direct approaches to conservation are as diverse as the species and ecological webs themselves, ranging from quantifying and characterizing the “normal” state of an ecosystem to preserving tracts of a landscape from further degradation to preventing population reduction of a particular species. These approaches are further complicated by competing interests, including both local residents reliant upon natural resources and powerful commercial and political entities focused on other goals. Developing and executing coherent and effective strategies for performing, communicating, and defending conservation efforts requires substantial financial resources, which are often in short supply.

Over the next several weeks, I will explore the different types of work conservation groups pursue to achieve preservation, protection, prevention, and restoration, including 1) understanding (and developing protections for) the ecology of specific animals, plants, and ecosystems, 2) engaging communities and providing education, 3) encouraging political action and enforcing current law, and 4) fundraising and distributing resources.

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