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Conservation vs Preservation: Meaning, Differences, Implications

Maybe you’ve heard the terms conservation and preservation. You may associate these terms with environmentalism or history. What do they mean? What’s the difference between conservation and preservation? What exactly do conservationists and preservationists do?

In this article, you’ll learn interesting details about these two similar yet different environmentalism terms. You’ll also see some examples of both conservation and preservation.

conservation vs preservation
Lower Lewis River Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

Conservation vs Preservation

While it may seem like these two terms are interchangeable, there is a difference between conservation and preservation.

Here’s a little breakdown between the two.

Conservation and Preservation: 2 Protection Methods

Conservationists and preservationists try to protect the earth from being exploited or overused for its resources. However, they have different philosophies when it comes to how that protection should happen.

  • Conservation looks to limit the impact on the environment
  • Preservation looks to eliminate the impact of humans all together
  • Conservation wants use resources in a sustainable manner
  • Preservation wants to protect nature from use
  • Other than the environment, conservation and preservation can also be used in the protection and maintenance of artefacts, older buildings

Having looked quickly at these two terms, let’s take a closer look at the differences between them

Conservation: Manage and Use Wisely

Conservation looks to use the earth’s resources and doing so in a way that can be maintained. The belief is that the resources can be used to benefit human life and boost the economy as well.

However, this doesn’t mean that these resources should be used wantonly or wastefully. Conservation means that resources available to us should be used in a way that doesn’t cause these resources to run out.

What does a conservationist do?

Conservationists work to protect and manage natural habitats. They may be hired by governments or private landowners to make sure regulations are being followed and the appropriate actions are being taken to protect the environment.

They may advise, for example, farmers on how to use their land in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Conservationists study the area they’re looking to protect. This way, they can assess which plants or animals are flourishing and which ones need attention.

They may also take on the role to educate others about their efforts. This may include giving presentations to governments, industries, or the general public.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation does important work to conserve and classify the current giraffe population.

Examples of Conservation

One example of environmental conservation may come in the form of energy conservation.

Working to reduce our use of energy or by using sustainable means of energy (like solar or wind energy) may help reduce the impact on the environment, such as reducing the need for fossil fuels.

An example of someone who spearheaded environmental conservation is Gifford Pinchot.

He was the first head, or Chief Forester, of the US Forest Service back in 1905.

While in charge, Pinchot’s attitude was to be able to make forestry profitable while at the same time managing resources so they can continue to be used.

gifford pinchot

Preservation: Protect and Keep Untouched

Preservation is a little more focused on the protection aspect for the environment. To preserve something means to keep or maintain something in its original state.

When we think of the preservation of antique objects or buildings, we may picture work being put in for it to stay exactly the way it currently is.

People who work to preserve an artifact or an antique object/building may not want to put in new materials to replace broken parts (this work is known as restoration). They would also not want the object to degrade any further due to time.

In a similar manner, preserving nature may mean trying to eliminate any outside influence. Instead of using resources in a sustainable way, the focus is making sure said resources remain untouched.

What does a preservationist do?

Preservationists would focus on preventing human interference from nature. They may view nature as something to be enjoyed and maintained. Preservationists may oppose or protest any developments or construction in certain areas.

Preservationists may also lobby governments and support policies that would protect areas from being exploited for any means.

Examples of Preservation

An example of a preservationist is John Muir. A contemporary of Gifford Pinchot, mentioned above, Muir was very opposed to using nature for commercial reasons.

He fought to preserve areas such as the Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park and co-founded the Sierra Club, which currently promotes environmentalist policies to politicians.

john muir preservation
Sign outside the birthplace of John Muir in Dunbar, Scotland

Another example of a preservationist is Julia Hill. She is famous for having lived on an ancient redwood tree in California for over two years to prevent it from being cut down.

This lead to a deal being made that protected that tree, which she named Luna, and all other trees within a 200-foot (61 m) radius.

difference between conservation and preservation
Aerial view of Lower Lewis River Falls, Gifford Pinchot National Forest

More reading: Learn about some of the amazing Galapagos Islands animals.

Your Turn!

In conclusion, we’re seen how conservation looks to use the environment wisely, while preservation looks to protect the environment and keep it at an untouched state.

What do you think? Was there anything we missed? Please leave any thoughts and comments below!


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