Conservation is About Caring for Nature and People

November 6, 2013

David Wilkie, the director of WCS Conservation Support program; Michael Painter, the director of WCS Conservation and Quality of Human Life Program; and Heidi Krester, the Livelihoods and Conservation Coordinator with WCS North America Program; explore the need for conservationists to consider how to protect both nature and people.

As conservationists, we are fortunate to work in some of the last wild places on the planet — those few amazing spaces where intact assemblages of native species still fulfill their ecological roles, and for the most part, interact outside the influence of industrial, urban humankind. These places remain the only manuals for how nature works, because everywhere else, humans and their activities dominate landscapes — and nature is subordinated to satisfying humanity's wants and needs.

It is unfortunate, and telling, that many people are surprised — and a little skeptical — to hear that conservation organizations like WCS care deeply about the wellbeing of indigenous and rural peoples that live in the wild places where we work. Yet, more than anyone else, rural people — often the poorest individuals in a community — have an interest in finding alternatives to conventional development approaches, those based on the imposition of individual over collective rights and the reduction of nature to a series of commodity values.

At WCS, our interest in such communities has both practical and moral dimensions. Poverty forces people to adopt a short-term view in which the future is discounted because any given child, or parent's , survival is so uncertain. Conservationists need to understand this and look for ways to help families make the present more secure while constructing a pathway to a safer, healthier and more prosperous future. Livelihood security is essential in taking a long view on the environment.

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