Do we need a new compass bearing? In the midst of what is now considered to be the sixth mass extinction in the approximately 4.5-billion-year history of Earth, knowing that the primary agent of biodiversity loss (the aggregate impacts of human activities) is increasing in reach and intensity, it is perhaps understandable that some conservationists have lost their way, have given up hope, or are now suggesting that the goal of conservation be abandoned and reinvented. The(ir) argument goes something like this: There is no longer any wild land, what we have left is in a seminatural state (the product of human management and impacts), so we should think of ourselves more as gardeners who have to manage the planet carefully, ensuring that ecosystems remain healthy and providing people with food, water, and other ecosystem services; in brief, we need to “domesticate nature more wisely.”
Resetting the conservation goal to one of “wise gardening” is tempting in that it enables us to focus on manipulating species and biophysical processes as circumstances suit us, without reference to or regard for evolutionary and ecological legacies and processes. Such reorientation of conservation . . . also appeals to human hubris and vanity, suggesting it is people who are now in control of Earth and that we can manage our way out of this environmental crisis. . . .
Brendan Mackay, respected Australian ecologist, member of the International Union for Conservation, and science advisor to the Climate Change Commission, in his essay, “The Future of Conservation: An Australian Perspective,” offers some perceptive and stark opinions. Here we quote a portion of the essay and encourage you to read it in its entirety. It can be found in a collection of essays published by Island Press: Keeping the Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth (2014).
Over 70 years ago, Aldo Leopold wrote, "Conservation, viewed in its entirety, is the slow and laborious unfolding of a new relationship between people and land." That unfolding continues in our work.
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