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Scott Rall: Conservationists vs. preservationists

By Scott Rall

Outdoors columnist 

I have been an outdoor educator for as long as I can remember. I am not the most formally educated outdoor educator, but every time I get the opportunity to share a little information about an outdoor topic with someone interested in hearing it, I am the first to jump at the opportunity.

I was in the waiting room at the oncology department in Sioux Falls, S.D., earlier this month and saw a guy reading an article on bees. And 45 minutes later we said good-day. People want to know about the outdoors and, like me, marvel at nature’s wonders.

There are two terms I would like you to understand about the world of outdoors. I have taught this in every firearms safety class for the past 13 years.

The two terms are conservation and preservation. The definition of conservation is the wise use of a particular resource. The definition of preservation is no use of a particular resource.

A conservationist can be a preservationist, but a preservationist cannot and will not ever be a conservationist. Take, for example hunters. Lawful hunters will harvest the percentage of game that can be killed and consumed at a level that will not harm the overall population of that species. If the targeted species is in decline, the harvest limit on that type of game will be reduced. If game populations are very abundant, the harvest limits will increase to allow for the harvest of that additional available resource.

Snow geese populations are so high that they are eating themselves out of house and home in the arctic tundra, and the harvest limits on them are as high as 10-20 per day.

But let’s look at wolves. Wolf populations were very low but on the rebound. There was no wolf hunting. Populations were so low that their management went from conservation to preservation and is now back to conservation being wise use.

Now that populations are higher than goal, limited hunting is allowed.

The same thing can said for deer and hundreds of other animals. Use the excess resource if it is available and reduce or eliminate this consumption if limited populations require. If a season becomes closed (no use) a conservationist (wise use) turns into a preservationist (no use).

Absolute preservationists, on the other hand, use no rational thought, in my opinion. A preservationist would rather see a huge deer herd get a disease and die than for a single animal to be harvested and consumed. Being hit by cars is a much better fate for a deer than being harvested by a hunter. It matters not if there is an excess resource that can be used and consumed. No use of any kind at any time is the rule of the day every day. So if the population is overflowing and eating itself out of house and home, it can still not be hunted or consumed — ever.

All this talk about conservationists and preservationists brings me to this point. Managing populations of game and fish is a balance between conservation when populations allow a harvestable surplus, and preservation when numbers fall so low that no harvestable surplus exist. Almost every time a population drops below the threshold it is as a result of habitat loss and not from hunting. Hunters fund the programs to manage wildlife, and as a result wildlife is better off in almost all cases.

In the Midwest hunting is far more common and, for the most part, the average citizen understands the need for it and has no issue with it. Because conservationists support the wise use of a resource they are the ones who are primarily responsible for the care and propagation of the resources they use and love.

Preservationists, on the other hand, use their resources to file lawsuits and seek injunctions over the actions of conservationists who care for and fund through their license fees the propagation of wildlife species and promote the protection of their habitats.

I am proud to be a conservationist and will continue to support the wise use of renewable resources.

Preservationists, on the other hand, do very little on the ground work to ensure that wildlife and their habitats are properly managed for future generations to enjoy. What category does the most for wildlife in your opinion?