These 7 varieties of environmental stakeholders are a rough map of the active forces shaping conservation resources and management of wilderness. They have very different motivations and characters - I grouped them starting with the most individualistic motivations and moving to the most widespread and abstract objectives.
Scenic Preservation / Recreationists
Known for protecting natural environments for future generations, this group values nature for the personal experience. There are two main subgroups: ① Scenic activities and ② Recreation activities. These subgroups are divided by their impact and cost per person.
Park visitors are mainly are concerned with appearance and access. They advocate for the construction of trails, campsites, and visitor centers. They can have a mix of priorities, sometimes preferring an untamed wilderness experience, and sometimes preferring a curated experience.1 Some seek isolation. Some seek danger.
Examples: Photographers, painters, amateur naturalists, family vacations, dog walking, bird song, unique landscapes, silence, stars, inspiration, mental and physical health, camping, hiking.
Compared to Scenery-motivated individuals, the cost and impact on wilderness is much higher per person motivated by Recreational activities. It can lead to some conflict because fewer people are served when public resources go toward accommodating these activities. However, the benefit from this group goes both ways: This group is smaller and more costly, but it is also more invested and willing to fund conservation per person. Another source of conflict is when areas are reserved for these activities. This group advocates for hunting permits, high target populations, limited public access, backroads, trail maintenance,
Examples: Offroading, mountain biking, hunting (shooting, archery, catch and release, trapping, pelts), mushroom foraging, firewood, fishing, RVing, boating, rock climbing, base jumping, horseback riding.
Resource Extractors benefit from harvesting free resources from the wild, and they have an interest in continuing to harvest those resources. Long-term resource extractors are invested in having the wilderness renew free resources. Short-term resource extractors do not. However both types are not directly motivated by naturalness, and thus would maximize production even if that meant interfering in natural processes. An example of the optimal outcome for resource extractors would be monoculture rows of identically aged trees in the forest, fish populations kept at artificially high harvest levels. Biodiverse forests are rarely more profitable. Resource extractors form alliances with conservation groups through compromises and mutual benefits. For example, cattle may reduce cheat grass invasions if grazing is timed carefully.
Examples: Logging, mining, ranching, hydropower, wind power, fracking, water redirection, rare materials, large scale harvesting.
This covers all research of natural phenomena, from insect anatomy, to volcanology. There are two main objectives - the material benefit of society, and to satisfy our curiosity. It is often difficult to tell which, and it will often switch with new findings. Gaining control of natural systems to serve our needs and copying nature to improve technology are motivated by developing our civilization. Researching evolutionary trees and studying surprising natural behaviors are ways to answer questions about our beginnings and our world. Research is mostly funded by governments and grants through academic institutions. It is prone to weird incentives that cause a popularity driven focus, rather than reasons outside the academic sphere. Scientists tend to support preserving remote areas, uncharismatic species, undisturbed areas, and the most unique, complex, and novel environments. Scientists generally abstain from conducting experiments that interfere with natural processes. But when they do, they do spectacular experiments on entire lakes that provide valuable data.
This motivation is grounded in our cultural identity. Practitioners of culture-based conservation are protect everything from ancient Native American ceremonies, to small town America’s local traditions, to historical collection museums. It can range from something as specific as an individual tree, to as broad as a natural resource. Motivations can come from the spiritual and symbolic importance, from the trade crafts that rely on the availability of a natural resource, or from the desire to chronicle how things were to educate the future. We are most familiar with cultural importance of Native American traditions, but newly formed cultural values show up in community parks and local traditions. 2 Occasionally the preservation of a tradition is in conflict with the preservation of the environment. A complex example of culturally motivated conservation is the Oregon salmon management.
Examples: Evolutionary history, human history, mythology, paleontologists, historical societies, genetic libraries, neighborhood parks, local history, traditional celebrations. (ex: living cultural practices and celebrations,traditional techniques, NTFPs.)
Biodiversity + Endangered Species
Biodiveristy is a relatively new locus for conservation efforts. The effort to preserve biodiversity is mostly performed on a local scale: one habitat at a time. But the end goal is within a global context: protecting all species from extinction. The Endangered Species Act has become the strongest conservation law in the USA, and so conservation efforts of all types are re-interpreted to spotlight endangered species as the stated purpose. For example, blocking construction of oil pipelines and wind turbines via litigation. Endangered species management can have some problems arising from complex issues in definitions of “endangered,”3 “species,”4 and “biodiversity.”56
Examples: Endangered species, ecosystem health, birders, photographers, zoologists, nonprofits, national governments. Meta ecology concern - ongoing ecosystem stability and loss of resiliance to support complex and rare natural phenomena.
Ecosystem services are a tragedy of the commons because they serve such vast areas. They are considered “free” because of their accessibility. No one wants to volunteer money to maintain them, but they can be prohibitively costly to lose. A simple example is erosion. A forest provides erosion control by providing rainfall dampening and roots to hold the soil. Without the forest, erosion speeds up, damaging agriculture and fish populations, causing flooding and mudslides leading to property damage. Farmers, homeowners, fishermen, all benefited from the forest upstream, but the lumberjacks benefit from logging. Neither party can be charged or reimbursed properly by the ecosystem service effects. Note: This motivation for conservation only exists when the natural method is cheaper and more efficient than the human-engineered one. For example, if laying down straw adequately prevents erosion, this ecosystem service is no motivation to prevent logging.
The main problem in this area of conservation are externalities are not economically accounted for when land is used. Ecosystem services are often a humanitarian concern, as longterm benefits are unaffordable by struggling individuals, but will devastate their communities as shown by shrimp farming in Thailand. The community knew damage it would do, but someone would sacrifice the longterm well-being of the community anyway.
Examples: Water and water purification, air purification, decomposition, pollination, carbon sequestration, flood prevention, disease prevention, population control, erosion control, windbreaks, temperature regulation, moisture regulation, weather stability, and natural disaster mitigation.
Climate regulation is a special case of ecosystem services. Combatting climate change is a global effort to preserve the welfare and quality of life of the public, especially of third world countries. Since the goal is keeping temperatures down, the carbon budget is fungible and carbon savings can come from anywhere. This gives it a unique aspect compared to other ecological motivations which are often location-specific. Fighting climate change is mostly accomplished by economic cost/benefit analysis of projects that will save the most carbon. Sometimes this involves conservation, sometimes it involves artificial methods. Either way, from a conservation perspective, climate change is a direct threat to the natural environment. Global warming will shift suitable habitat locations northward. However, not all species migrate at the same speed. Plants will move north one generation at a time, and other species depend on them for food. Therefore we expect ecosystems to break down as temperatures increase.
I will write a more extensive blog post on this interest area, but as a short description:
This motivation applies to every individual creature and how it is treated. It is motivated by moral principles. Activist groups are often small and disorganized, which is why they are not included with the rest of the conservation groups above. Some examples of their activities include successfully campaigning against deer hunting, but they are not likely to successfully mobilize to prevent deer starvation when populations exceed forest carrying capacity. These philosophical issues are thorny, especially when trying to consider how to prevent animal suffering in the wild while respecting their instinctual desires.
As with many of these groups, sometimes nature is incidental - a garden or a canal serves some of these people just as well. Others insist that the uncontrolled wilderness is imperative to their enjoyment of the activity.
Such as the preservation of coal mines as they once were or the annual Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. These are cultural values that inspire conservation efforts as well, even if they have emerged more recently. It is often motivated by the fun and wellbeing of the community, rather than spirituality.
Deserts always have low biodiversity even though they are perfectly preserved, healthy, and “thriving” for a desert.
Human environmental disturbance can raise biodiversity by creating “edge habitat” (where two habitats border, say between a forest and a field) which can have more biodiversity than either individual habitat. Yet this habitat can be unhealthy, since many of the edge species need undivided forest and fields to thrive, and the species that thrive in edge habitat tend to be common species since there are plenty of edge habitats in these times.