Skip to Content

Conservation vs Preservation: The Differences

Conservation vs Preservation: The Differences

Most of us are often confused when it comes to conservation vs preservation comparison. Are they the same? If not, what are the differences? Here is a detailed answer.

Environmental degradation is one of the most brooding concerns for humanity in this era. The devastating issues we’re currently facing include land disfigurement, aesthetic degradation, and adverse ecological effects.

In response to this situation, humankind has derived many potential solutions over the years. Currently, we’re focusing on combating mindless consumerism by promoting sustainable development.

However, let’s look back to when it all started. When concerns about environmental degradation first came up during the early 20th century, two words were commonly used; conservation and preservation.

Although they have similar meanings and are even used as synonyms in some cases, some differences set them apart. Read through my take on conservation vs preservation to get all the information you need.

Conservations vs Preservation – A Brief History

Mainly, both terms imply a level of protection, but the difference lies in how the protection is carried out. Conservation is the protection of natural resources, while preservation takes up the protection of human-made objects and landscapes.

Conservations Vs Preservation

First of all, let’s take a trip down memory lane back in the early 20th century when both of these terminologies came into being. When the environmental protection movement began, researchers and scientists came up with two different concepts.

While both concepts aimed to protect the environment and promote sustainable practices worldwide ultimately, they bought forward opposing plans of action.

To the conservationists, human activity was the root of the entire degradation scenario. That’s why they aimed to regulate human use and look for ways to enhance the economy at the same time.

Preservationists believed in the same concept but wanted to take more drastic measures compared to the conservationists. They sought to eliminate human use of the environment and preserve all living beings’ value, whether they’re useful to human existence or not.

The first person to introduce the preservationist movement was Aldo Leopold, also known as the father of ecology.

He created a wilderness preservation program to benefit the well-being of all living things on earth. His idea was to preserve ecology in its purest form and revitalize the original sustainability of the planet.

However, conservationists tried to limit this comprehensive approach by finding a middle ground between environmental protection and human consumption. Thus, the World Wildlife Fund came into being in 1961.

Wildlife in Africa

This approach aimed to conserve spaces teeming with wildlife in Africa, but with an economic motive of commercializing them with game hunting areas.

The formulation of these organizations led to a heated debate between the two schools of thought. Until a formal agreement was bought about with political intervention to seek sustainable practices for environmental conservation.

See Related: Green Revolution Pros and Cons

Conservation vs Preservation – Chronological Advancements

Difference between Conservation and Preservation

Although it still marginally exists today, the conservation vs preservation debate goes back more than a hundred years ago.

National Forest

Believe it or not, it’s the reason why the National Forest surrounds the National Park. The founding fathers of the conservation and preservation movements influenced the decisions of allotting American public lands, which resulted in conflicting conclusions.

The Founding Fathers

During the early 20th century, two affluent individuals, namely Gifford Pinchot and John Muir, presented two entirely diverse views of conservation and preservation regarding the management of the vacant lands in America.

Pinchot worked to establish a conservationist approach, while Muir labored away in favor of preservationist practices. Both individuals’ primary motive was to get the green signal from the existing government, the Congress, to implement measures according to their respective viewpoints.

As a conservationist, Pinchot proposed that the vacant Federal lands in the US should not be used extensively for recreation by humans. This way, it wouldn’t lead to the degradation of the existing natural areas in the country.

However, Pinchot’s conservationist movement allowed the land to be used for other purposes like mining, logging, scientific research, and hunting. He also supported the idea of taking regulatory measures across natural lands to protect wildlife and natural resources.

On the other hand, Muir rallied against the opinion and proposed to preserve the vacant federal lands of the US. He suggested that humans should leave the National Parks alone entirely.

This would allow nature to take its course and let biodiversity flourish in the region.

The Consequences

The conflict eventually ended when President Roosevelt agreed-upon conservation as the best practice to protect the environment and sustaining the economy at the same time.

Pinchot ended up serving as the head of the US Forest Service. Today, the organization works to protect more than 190 million acres of forests and grasslands across the US.

But, that doesn’t mean Muir gave up on his preservation cause. He remained adamant that the federal lands should not be used for any recreational or industrial practices and had some influential government officials in his favor as well.

Consequently, about 100 million acres of forests and grasslands across the US are managed under the preservationist movement. Today, we know these places as our beloved National Parks managed by the National Park Service organization.

National Park Service

So, the next time you visit your nearest National Forest for outdoor adventure sports, hiking, or skiing during the winter, you should know that you’re promoting the conservationist viewpoint. Similarly, these forests produce about 70% of all the timber used in the US to build houses and furniture for its citizens.

Furthermore, the US Forest Service constructed various research labs inside the woods in states like Wisconsin and Madison. These labs succeeded in producing path-breaking inventions and new technologies that we’re using even today.

To this date, whichever National Park you observe on the map, you’ll see a forest surrounding it or located nearby, highlighting the long-standing conflict.

However, the dual approach creates a beneficial balance for the US citizens. Conservation created jobs and helped generate revenue for business owners, while preservation gave us places to enjoy wildlife in its original form and secure biodiversity in the region.

Defining Conservation vs Preservation

Now that you’ve read through the chronological advancements of the dual concepts, you probably understand the main conservation vs preservation difference.

Mainly, the difference lies in the approach and the objectives, while the ultimate aim for protecting the environment remains constant.

Before we go further into the details of the conservation vs preservation debate and differences on a global level, here’s a detailed definition of both concepts.

Conservation

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, natural conservation means to protect plants, animals, and natural areas from damage produced by human activity.

As a contrast, the US dictionary states the meaning of conservation as responsible use of natural materials including fuel, water, and wood.

Conservation

Both definitions clearly explain that while conservation aims to protect the environment and reduce practices that damage it, it also allows the use of natural resources at a sustainable level.

For example, if you’re conserving energy, you’re not cutting off its use entirely. Instead, you’re using the amount you receive carefully, so you don’t waste the resources and fulfill your needs simultaneously.

Preservation

The term preservation in the Cambridge Dictionary is described as keeping something in its original form and preventing it from any damage or degradation.

However, the definition does not provide any examples of environmental preservation as a secondary definition.

Preservation

Similarly, the US definition also describes preservation as a means of protecting an object or area from destruction and damage. Moreover, it emphasizes the protection of historical artifacts and antiquities rather than preserving the environment.

The Use of Conservation vs Preservation in Colloquial Language

Although the definitions show that conservation and preservation have slightly different meanings, they are both colloquially used as a reference to environmental protection.

However, while conservation is abundantly used for the purpose, preservation is colloquially used for other purposes as well. If you look at conservation vs preservation biology, you’ll find that conservation is more relevant to subjects like ecology and biodiversity.

On the other hand, preservation is linked to various aspects, including architecture, arts, mathematics, and heritage.

Conservation vs Preservation – The Ultimate Debate

Attributing to the definitions, it does seem that conservation plays a more essential role in environmental protection as compared to preservation. However, that’s not the case.

Despite the long-standing argument about the effectiveness of conservation vs preservation, both concepts are equally important to balance the overall approach.

Here’s a brief take on the importance of each concept so you can get a clear idea.

How Is Conservation Important?

When it comes to conservation, the only aspect preservationists argue upon is that the use of natural areas should be minimized to little or none. While complete restriction seems like a great idea to let nature takes its course, limited human intervention is critical as well.

You see, the ecosystem as a whole functions in its ideal state only when every living thing in the food web is thriving on its own. This means, as humans, we’re also a part of the food chain and need to use the resources from the environment to form the ideal balance.

That’s why conservation plays a vital role in limiting human practices to a sustainable level. This means, based on conservationist thoughts; we can use the bounties of nature however much we need, without being invasive with our demands.

Caboo Tree Free Bamboo Paper Towels

Through this concept, human beings can find ways to conduct their actions responsibly. Ultimately, this led to research and development that helped using the resources without obstructing themselves from everything nature has to offer.

How Is Preservation Important?

On the other hand, preservation is a means to use nature without controlling it in any way. This does not mean that preservationists rule out the use of nature entirely. In that case, human life as we know it would cease to exist.

However, they do prefer the approach of limiting the use to only what is necessary. Besides that, another important aspect of preservation is that it values nature for what it is, regardless of what it provides for humans to thrive.

How Is Preservation Important

Meaning, even if a building, artifact, or natural habitat does not contribute anything to the economy, it is still liable to be protected and kept in its purest form. If the preservation movement did not guide us, we would not have the few natural areas left that are budding with biodiversity.

Recent research shows that even natural aspects that do not directly link to human consumption are valuable to the ecosystem on the whole. If we do not protect these aspects as preservationists, it would indirectly affect our future generations’ quality of life.

Similarly, in preservation lies the ultimate solution to the biodiversity crisis humans are facing today. That’s because it helps protect plants, animals, ecosystems, and microorganisms from human intervention.

Conservation Vs Preservation Debate – A Global Perspective

The budding argument of conservation vs preservation, which started during the 20th century in the US, affected the global viewpoints about environmental protection.

The conservationists wanted to regulate human use of nature. In Contrast, preservationists all over the world tried to eliminate human impact completely.

The world watched as the federal lands of the US were divided using a dual approach. This bought forward the most versatile system towards environmental conservation.

For example, a Harvard publication written by Jihoon Kim highlights how beneficial it would be if conservation included the concept of preservation and worked together to refine the concept into a dual mechanism.

Meanwhile, Freya Mathews also argued that in order to sustain biodiversity, conservation has to partially adhere to preservationist concepts.

The Ecological Self

For example, if the two concepts are merged together, humans can potentially find ways to feed and accommodate everyone on the planet. At the same time,  they can allow biodiversity to flourish at a favorable rate.

Conservation Vs Preservation Examples

Now, you understand how the conservation vs. preservation debate built up over the years. Meaning, you probably realize that both concepts are equally important to environmental protection.

Here are some examples where you can see the practical implications of conservation and preservation to give you further insight.

Conservation Vs Preservation – Environmental Aspects

To apply the concept of conservation practically to a particular forest, you would need to control it. This means regulating the number of trees that grow and the wildlife that exists in the area.

These decisions would depend on the resources that need to be harvested from the forest, along with the activities it would be reserved for. These activities include game hunting, adventure sports, hiking, etc.

However, while preserving the same forest, all you have to do is block the entire space off and leaving nature to take its course. With minimal human intervention, the space will sustain itself while providing a natural getaway for nature enthusiasts.

Both approaches aim to protect the forest and put it to ideal use for humans. But, the difference in the techniques they use to achieve the motive.

Similarly, when it comes to conserving the environment, it can also be done on an everyday basis. Humans can carry out simple actions like recycling and managing waste effectively. This means the resources we take from nature are put to optimal use.

On the other hand, to preserve the environment, humans need to limit their use of the resources instead of using them as effectively as possible.

The growing population would not allow eliminating natural resources entirely. Although, there are areas where natural resource harvesting is restricted partially to protect the environment.

Conservation Vs Preservation – Hunting Wildlife

When it comes to protecting wildlife from human intervention, conservationists and preservationists use diverse approaches.

For example, protecting endangered species, restricting poaching and hunting to a sustainable level. Besides that, protecting natural habitats are conservationist practices as well.

Hunting Wildlife

Similarly, conservation can help improve sea life as well by promoting the partial prevention of coral bleaching and excessive fishing. Additionally, participating in beach-cleaning initiatives is also a way to conserve marine wildlife.

On the other hand, when it comes to wildlife preservation, it involves assigning several spaces for wildlife to thrive naturally. This approach is different from restoring endangered species with human effort.  In contrast, preservation movements aim to let the animals and plants flourish without human disturbance.

The most evident efforts of preservationists are preserving areas of tropical rainforests and major grasslands across the globe.

There are thousands of animal and plant species existing in tropical rainforests. These species would remain in their natural state if humans wouldn’t intervene with their habitat. Therefore, just restricting these spaces for their biological purpose is all we need to do to preserve them.

Conservation Vs Preservation – Bottom Line

Wrapping this conservation vs. preservation debate up, it is evident that none of the two can surpass the other when it comes to protecting the environment. Each of the approaches introduced us to extraordinary measures that ultimately help in contributing positively to our planet.

Conservation promotes the sustainable use and responsible management of natural wildlife habitats and resources.

The approach ensures that humans do not use up the available resources faster than they’re produced naturally. Also, conservation promotes the effective use of these resources in enhancing the economic, cultural, and recreational aspects of human life.

In contrast, preservation serves to maintain natural areas in their original condition. This addresses the concern of human encroachment on the environment to facilitate housing, farming, and tourism.

In a nutshell, the main difference between conservation vs preservation is that one advocates for humans. While the other advocates entirely for nature.

However, both concepts work towards making our planet a sustainable space to live in for the future generation in their purest forms.

Today, both these practices are being implemented hand-in-hand. This helps achieve the level of equilibrium between humans and nature for both entities are ultimately interdependent upon each other.

Related Resources