Conservation vs. Protection

What’s the difference?

I ask because I came across this quote from Teddy Roosevelt when I visited Roosevelt Island this weekend:

“Conservation Means Development as Much as it Does Protection.”

Coming from the man who established the National Park System, I raised an eyebrow when I read this.  These terms — conservation, preservation, protection, etc. — are pretty slippery.  When you’re talking about actual environmental policy, these words have no concrete definition. Which, come to think of it, is probably why politicians like them.  Politicians are just nuts about abstract language.

But Teddy’s use of the term “development” is what really surprised me.  Today, that word definitely has some nasty connotations.  But what did the term “development” conjure in the average citizen’s mind back in 1900, I wonder?  What did Roosevelt mean by “development” when he dreamed up this quote?  Clearing trails?  Managing forests for timber?  Building dams?

What do you think?  What role do you think “development” plays in conservation?  Specific examples appreciated.

Coming up next: Part 2 of my excursion to Roosevelt Island, in which I complain at length about the heavy use of English Boxwoods to represent an American Conservationist president, and point out the irony of how Roosevelt Island’s woodlands are overrun with invasive vines.

21 thoughts on “Conservation vs. Protection

  1. Mary,
    What a thoughtful (and rather daring) question. To me, conservation is helping third world countries build—or in the case of the country of my heart, Liberia—helping them rebuild. I keep a link to Treecycle on my website. They are a non-for-profit organization that purchases trees for third world countries. Conservation is helping those who cannot help themselves which would mostly include animals. A soft place in my heart is kept for our endangered Whooping cranes and the majestic eagles of our country. Therefore, I believe in the definition of our former President and the conservation ‘development’ of reserve areas. Hmm, I’m not hitting on plants or gardens, though. We want to know what you think. 🙂 Great post!
    R.T. Wolfe
    Black Creek Burning

  2. Mary — if I remember my grad school lessons on Gifford Pinchot (the guy responsible for starting the National Forest Service under Teddy Roosevelt) conservation has to do with maintaining and using natural resources, and preservation has to do with keeping things just as they are. So with a conservation ethic, you can cut down trees for timber; with a preservation ethic, you probably wouldn’t do that. Protection would likely fall more in the preservation camp than the conservation camp.

    • This makes sense, Deborah. What I am most curious about is his use of the term “development” as it applies to conservation. I am going to have to find a good bio of TR now to really see what he was all about.

  3. Deborah’s explanation makes sense. By development he probably meant what we would call today the sustainable exploitation of natural resources without the wholesale destruction of the natural environment. When you consider fracking and mountain top removal, this modest goal still seems to be something we have not consistently achieved.

  4. “Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful means, the generations that come after us.” – Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910
    I guess it would have cost too much to include the entire quote. You got me reading up on Roosevelt and I see he was very concerned about the forests, oil, gas, and coal being gobbled up with little regard for their limits. The entire southeast was clear cut of the long-leaf pine which were the dominate tree and they are only now being replanted. Thanks for the provocation.

  5. I read in this morning’s New York Times of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, another one considered a Wright masterpiece, that was bought by a developer who intends to tear it down this week and build two McMansions–if no one can stop him. I think this kind of “development” is not what Teddy Roosevelt was talking about. Arizona apparently has very strict laws that protect “property rights,” so preservation isn’t easy. The managing partner of the developer, 8081 Meridian, is John Hoffman. I mention his name so he can be the subject of scorn and opprobrium. I think that’s okay since this information is published in the NYT. He has refused an offer to buy the house at a price over $2 million. Sorry for the rant.

  6. Getting off thread a little here, but I’m astounded by James’ post about the FLW house – in the UK we have listed buildings which can be modern as well as historic, and they are strongly protected in law. Don’t you have similar in the US?
    Back to the thread – not surprised you raised an eyebrow! Does this reflect an earlier time when the emphasis was on the value of nature to people, rather than per se? I read Fire Season which explains how forest management used to be all about managing for timber (and to protect property), hence fire was suppressed, until the understanding caught up that fire was necessary for the ecosystems, and intact forest ecosystems were really rather a good idea, in so many ways…

  7. We must remember that in TR’s time, there were still huge expanses of untouched wild lands. Human population was about 1.6 billion in 1900, vs. 7 billion today, and the human footprint (consumption of resources, environmental impact of discarded plastic, etc.) was much smaller then as well. The human population of California was less than 1.5 million in 1900 and perhaps a dozen people, if that, owned an automobile, today it is close to 38 million humans, with over 32 million registered motor vehicles.

    So “conservation” seemed perhaps a reasonable notion back then.

  8. I agree. When I read the quote, then re-read it, then re-read it again, I thought, “Development is the antithesis of conservation.” But given that this was written a century ago, when raping the land was at its inception, I suppose Teddy was ahead of his time. I think he must have meant that if we were going to develop our lands, we needed to do so responsibly with as little impact as possible on the many micro-systems that dwelled there. At least this is what I’d like to think he meant. 🙂

    • Thanks, Cindy! It’s funny…the TR memorial seems a little dated in a way. Along with “Nature” “Youth” and “The State”, one of the granite signs has TR’s quotes about “Manhood”. I doubt you would get that at any memorials built today.

  9. Cindy, I think they are referring to the fact that public use means the park cannot be kept unchanged. Making national and state parks available to the public means roads, trails, campsites, restrooms, etc. At least the park department only has to balance recreational use with preservation. My sister is a retired forest ranger. She had an incredible balancing act to pull off. She had to balance the demands of the environmentalists, the timber industry, grazers, and mining operations. In the end no one was happy. No one felt they were getting enough of what they wanted. She was happy to retire.
    Keeping an area prisitine would mean fencing it off and allowing no one any kind of access. Not that there is any such thing as pristine. Native Americans used and impacted the land before it was taken over by the government.

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