Conservation and Preservation
History of Conservation and Resource Management: The idea that humans have abused the planet's natural resources and environment is not modern in origin. The earliest writings suggesting concern for the environment date back to the time of the ancient Greeks, when Plato described the effects of soil degradation and deforestation on the peninsula of Attica. This brief account was followed by the accounts of many others as they documented the negative effects of agriculture, land use change, urbanization, and industrialization. In the first century, Columella and Pliny the Elder warned that poor land management in the croplands around Rome could have a negative effect on crop yields and may cause soil erosion.
Throughout the middle ages, countless accounts describe the effects of pollution and degradation on the environment. Overpopulation and the subsequent resource depletion are believed to be the cause of the collapse of the Mayan Civilization in the tenth century. During the middle ages, large tracts of forests were removed for their wood or converted into pasture and cropland in much of Europe and Asia. One of the first examples of deliberate preservation of wildlife occurred during this period when noblemen in Britain and Europe put aside areas of land for the purpose of hunting.
In the mid-1700s, the Industrial Revolution began in England. During this period most of the forests had been cut down, and coal was used to replace wood as source of energy. Burning coal produced atmospheric pollution on a local and regional scale. John Evelyn, a naturalist, complained in 1661 of the effects of atmospheric pollution on the air quality in London.
The Environmental Movement in Britain during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was primarily influenced by three major forces. Scientific discovery by naturalists provided a general understanding of how nature works. It also allowed for the recognition that human degradation of the environment influenced the survival of living organisms. By the 1880s, field and naturalist clubs had a combined membership of over 100,000 people. At this time, many of the members of these organizations were active in building collections of native birds, eggs and plants. However, the combined effort of the collectors was having a drastic effect on species numbers. As a result of the declining numbers of collected species, a wildlife protection movement developed. The last major force was the growing reaction to the environmental degradation caused by urbanization. Urbanization resulted in air pollution, water pollution, and the conversion of natural space into built environments.
The first significant developments in environmentalism and conservation took place in the 19th century. In 1847, George Perkins Marsh gave a speech to the Agricultural Society of Rutland County, Vermont. The subject of this speech was that human activity was having a destructive impact on land, especially through deforestation and land conversion. The speech also became the foundation for his book Man and Nature or The Earth as Modified by Human Action, first published in 1864. In this book, Marsh warned of the ecological consequences of the continued development of the frontier (Also see Library of Congress - The Evolution of the Conservation Movement 1850-1920 home page).
Henry David Thoreau wrote the famous book about conservation and the environment called Walden in 1854. In the book Walden expressed the idea that human civilization was becoming too complex and removed from its foundations in the natural world. Thoreau suggested that humanity should simplify its economic and societal systems so that they are more in harmony with nature. He also suggested that humans should strive for environmental wisdom - which is the ability to make correct decisions and long-term planning by sorting through natural and human created facts and information.
In 1892, the Sierra Club was incorporated in the United States with John Muir as President. John Muir suggested that the utilitarian approach to resource management did not go far enough to protect nature. He suggested that certain resources should be permanently preserved and protected. As a result of his views, some areas in the United States were put aside as National Parks.
Influenced by Marsh's book, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to change the way the United States Government managed natural resources. With the help of Gifford Pinchot, his main conservation advisor, policies were developed and laws were passed to insure that resources would be managed using utilitarian principles. Utilitarian conservation suggests that renewable resources should be managed so that they will never be exhausted. President Theodore Roosevelt creates first national wildlife refuge, on Pelican Island, Florida. By 1909, the Roosevelt Government creates 200,000 square kilometres of national forests, 51 national wildlife refuges and 18 areas of special interest, including the Grand Canyon.