Conservation in the Anthropocene

Be carefull, this article apparently carries a strong critic of protected Areas and conservation. But in fact it carries something deeper in relation with a full market-friendly integration of Nature. In relation with The Natural Capital approach and Steven McCormick. This may conduct to the highest level of ocean grabbing, and Earth grabbing through such market approach.

The most important thing to remind in this article is: "Instead of scolding capitalism, conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature's benefits into their operations and cultures."


Peter Kareiva, Michelle Marvier, and Robert Lalasz showed that conservation is losing the war to protect nature despite winning the battle to create parks and game preserves. While the number of protected areas has risen, species in wild places have fallen. Conservationists must shed their 19th Century vision of pristine nature, the authors wrote, and seek a new vision, one of "a planet in which nature exists amidst a wide variety of modern, human landscapes."

In a new Breakthrough debate, a host of passionate 21st Century conservationists face off with the authors over the resilience of nature, corporate partners, and the state of conservation today.

The debate continues at the New York Times. John Lemons, an emeritus professor of biology and environmental sciences at the University of New England, has taken Kareiva to task at Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog.

Kareiva has replied here.

Authors :

- Peter Kareiva: Chief scientists AND Vice-President The Nature Conservancy, in charge of the Natural Capital (or Earth Genome Project)
- Michelle Marvier is professor and department chair at the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University, also athor of a book called "conservation, balancing the needs of People and Nature".
- Robert Lalasz is the director of science communications at The Nature Conservancy.

Conservation in the Anthropocene

Beyond Solitude and Fragility

By its own measures, conservation is failing. Biodiversity on Earth continues its rapid decline.1 We continue to lose forests in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.2 There are so few wild tigers and apes that they will be lost forever if current trends continue.3 Simply put, we are losing many more special places and species than we're saving.

Ironically, conservation is losing the war to protect nature despite winning one of its hardest fought battles -- the fight to create parks, game preserves, and wilderness areas. Even as we are losing species and wild places at an accelerating rate, the worldwide number of protected areas has risen dramatically, from under 10,000 in 1950 to over 100,000 by 2009.4 Around the world, nations have set aside beautiful, biodiverse areas where human development is restricted. By some estimates, 13 percent of the world's land mass is protected, an area larger than all of South America.5

But while conservation has historically been locally driven -- focused on saving specific places such as Yosemite National Park and the Grand Canyon, or on managing very limited ecological systems like watersheds and forests -- its more recent ambitions have become almost fantastical. For example, is halting deforestation in the Amazon, an area nearly the size of the continental United States, feasible? Is it even necessary? Putting a boundary around Yosemite Valley is not the same as attempting to do so around the Amazon. Just as the United States was dammed, logged, and crisscrossed by roads, it is likely that much of the Amazon will be as well.

Only with the rapid transformation of the developing world -- from rural or pastoral cultures to urban and industrial nations -- and the unmistakable domestication of our planet that has resulted has the paradox at the heart of contemporary conservation become apparent. We may protect places of particular beauty or those places with large numbers of species, but even as we do, the pace of destruction will likely continue to accelerate. Whether or not the developing world sets aside a large percentage of its landscapes as parks or wilderness over the next hundred years, what is clear is that those protected areas will remain islands of "pristine nature" in a sea of profound human transformations to the landscape through logging, agriculture, mining, damming, and urbanization.

In the face of these realities, 21st century conservation is changing. Conservationists have taken steps to become more "people friendly" and to attend more seriously to working landscapes. Conservation will likely continue to create parks and wilderness areas, but that will be just one part of the field's larger goals. The bigger questions for 21st century conservation regard what we will do with the rest of it -- the working landscapes, the urban ecosystems, the fisheries and tree plantations, the vast swaths of agricultural monocultures, and the growing expanses of marginal agricultural lands and second growth forests that, as agriculture and forestry become more productive and intensive, are already returning to something that may not be wilderness, but is of conservation value, nonetheless.

In answering these questions, conservation cannot promise a return to pristine, prehuman landscapes. Humankind has already profoundly transformed the planet and will continue to do so.6 What conservation could promise instead is a new vision of a planet in which nature -- forests, wetlands, diverse species, and other ancient ecosystems -- exists amid a wide variety of modern, human landscapes. For this to happen, conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness -- ideas that have never been supported by good conservation science -- and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision.

Since the early 19th century, a number of thinkers have argued that the greatest use of nature is as a source of solitary spiritual renewal, describing nature as a place to escape modern life, enjoy solitude, and experience God. "To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his seminal essay, "Nature."7 Cities and human development were portrayed as threats to these transcendence-enabling idylls, even though the writers were mostly urban intellectuals. Nathaniel Hawthorne complained bitterly of hearing the railroad whistle from his country home despite depending on modern transport to arrive at his own private Eden.8 Henry David Thoreau famously extolled his self-sufficiency, living in a small cabin in harmony with nature; in fact, Thoreau lived close enough to town that he could frequently receive guests and have his mother wash his clothes.9 More recently, Edward Abbey pined for companionship in his private journal even as he publicly exulted in his ascetic life in Desert Solitaire.10

The conservation movement's original justification for parks devoid of all people (unless those people were naturalists or tourists) was born from the 19th century spiritual view of nature as God. John Muir -- who, at age 11, could recite the Bible from memory -- read Emerson religiously while living in Yosemite. "No temple made with hands," Muir wrote, "can compare with Yosemite."11 But if Yosemite was a temple, it was one full of commerce. Though Yosemite was a state park when Muir arrived, it was occupied by Miwok Indians growing crops, white settlers raising sheep, and miners seeking gold and other minerals. Not long after he built himself a cabin and a water-powered mill, Muir, as head of the Sierra Club, decided the other occupants had to go. Muir had sympathized with the oppression of the Winnebago Indians in his home state, but when it came time to empty Yosemite of all except the naturalists and tourists, Muir vigorously backed the expulsion of the Miwok.12 The Yosemite model spread to other national parks, including Yellowstone, where the forced evictions killed 300 Shoshone in one day.13

Beneath the invocations of the spiritual and transcendental value of untrammeled nature is an argument for using landscapes for some things and not others: hiking trails rather than roads, science stations rather than logging operations, and hotels for ecotourists instead of homes. By removing long-established human communities, erecting hotels in their stead, removing unwanted species while supporting more desirable species, drilling wells 
to water wildlife, and imposing fire management that mixes control with prescribed burns, we create parks that are no less human constructions than Disneyland.

Conservation is widely viewed as the innocent and uncontroversial practice of purchasing special places threatened by development. In truth, for 30 years, the global conservation movement has been racked with controversy arising from its role in expelling indigenous people from their lands in order to create parks and reserves.14 The modern protection of supposed wilderness often involves resettling large numbers of people, too often without fair compensation for their lost homes, hunting grounds, and agricultural lands.

In 2009, the investigative journalist Mark Dowie, now professor of journalism at University of California, Berkeley, published Conservation Refugees, which estimated, "About half the land selected for protection by the global conservation establishment over the past century was either occupied or regularly used by indigenous peoples. In the Americas that number is over 80 percent."15 Estimates vary from five million people displaced over the last century by conservation to tens of millions, with one Cornell University professor estimating that 14 million individuals have been displaced by conservation in Africa alone.16

In the early 1990s, indigenous groups spoke out against these evictions at various forums, including at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio. As a result, conservation groups pledged to respect and work with the communities living in or around protected areas. Over the next few years, conservation organizations prioritized working with local organizations including indigenous people in "stakeholder" meetings, "community-based conservation," and "sustainable development." Gorgeous photos of indigenous people started gracing the glossy annual reports and fundraising brochures of conservation groups. But by 2004, the conflicts had only increased. That spring, the International Forum on Indigenous Mapping resulted in a declaration signed by all 200 delegates that the "activities of conservation organizations now represent the single biggest threat to the integrity of indigenous lands."17

In many parts of the world, parks have become anathema to conservation. Consider the 1982 effort to create a national park in Mburo, Uganda. In the name of preserving the wildlife, the government violently expelled thousands of men, women, and children from the surrounding region, without compensation. This expulsion proved self-defeating. In 1986, a new government encouraged these conservation refugees to resettle their former homelands, where they promptly slaughtered wildlife and vandalized the park facilities in retribution.18

In Indonesia, every major international conservation NGO has invested heavily to stem the tide of deforestation and the decline of iconic species, such as the orangutan. As a result, the country now has many protected areas. But you would never know it if you were to visit them because these areas are so heavily logged. Quantitative analyses of deforestation rates using satellite imagery reveal that forest loss is much greater inside protected Indonesian forests than in forests managed by local communities for sustainable logging.19

Conservation organizations counter these examples by saying that the displacements of people are old news. They point out that they have learned from past mistakes. Today, most conservation NGOs have policies of best practice intended to protect the rights of local communities, and conservation NGOs are increasingly hiring social scientists and anthropologists who incorporate indigenous people into their conservation strategies.

But conservation will be controversial as long as it remains so narrowly focused on the creation of parks and protected areas, and insists, often unfairly, that local people cannot be trusted to care for their land. In his 2005 book, Collapse, the geographer Jared Diamond famously claimed that Easter Island's inhabitants devolved into cannibalism after they mindlessly cut down the last trees -- a parable for humankind's shortsighted overuse of natural resources.20 But Diamond got the history wrong. It was the combined effect of a nonnative species -- the Polynesian rat, which ate tree seeds -- and European slavery raids that destroyed Easter Island's people, not their shortsighted management of nature.21

As conservation became a global enterprise in the 1970s and 1980s, the movement's justification for saving nature shifted from spiritual and aesthetic values to focus on biodiversity. Nature was described as primeval, fragile, and at risk of collapse from too much human use and abuse. And indeed, there are consequences when humans convert landscapes for mining, logging, intensive agriculture, and urban development and when key species or ecosystems are lost.

But ecologists and conservationists have grossly overstated the fragility of nature, frequently arguing that once an ecosystem is altered, it is gone forever. Some ecologists suggest that if a single species is lost, a whole ecosystem will be in danger of collapse, and that if too much biodiversity is lost, spaceship Earth will start to come apart. Everything, from the expansion of agriculture to rainforest destruction to changing waterways, has been painted as a threat to the delicate inner-workings of our planetary ecosystem.

The fragility trope dates back, at least, to Rachel Carson, who wrote plaintively in Silent Spring of the delicate web of life and warned that perturbing the intricate balance of nature could have disastrous consequences.22 Al Gore made a similar argument in his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance.23 And the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment warned darkly that, while the expansion of agriculture and other forms of development have been overwhelmingly positive for the world's poor, ecosystem degradation was simultaneously putting systems in jeopardy of collapse.24

The trouble for conservation is that the data simply do not support the idea of a fragile nature at risk of collapse. Ecologists now know that the disappearance of one species does not necessarily lead to the extinction of any others, much less all others in the same ecosystem. In many circumstances, the demise of formerly abundant species can be inconsequential to ecosystem function. The American chestnut, once a dominant tree in eastern North America, has been extinguished by a foreign disease, yet the forest ecosystem is surprisingly unaffected. The passenger pigeon, once so abundant that its flocks darkened the sky, went extinct, along with countless other species from the Steller's sea cow to the dodo, with no catastrophic or even measurable effects.

These stories of resilience are not isolated examples -- a thorough review of the scientific literature identified 240 studies of ecosystems following major disturbances such as deforestation, mining, oil spills, and other types 
of pollution. The abundance of plant and animal species as well as other measures of ecosystem function recovered, at least partially, in 173 (72 percent) of these studies.25

While global forest cover is continuing to decline, it is rising in the Northern Hemisphere, where "nature" is returning to former agricultural lands.26 Something similar is likely to occur in the Southern Hemisphere, after poor countries achieve a similar level of economic development. A 2010 report concluded that rainforests that have grown back over abandoned agricultural land had 40 to 70 percent of the species of the original forests.27 Even Indonesian orangutans, which were widely thought to be able to survive only in pristine forests, have been found in surprising numbers in oil palm plantations and degraded lands.28

Nature is so resilient that it can recover rapidly from even the most powerful human disturbances. Around the Chernobyl nuclear facility, which melted down in 1986, wildlife is thriving, despite the high levels of radiation.29 In the Bikini Atoll, the site of multiple nuclear bomb tests, including the 1954 hydrogen bomb test that boiled the water in the area, the number of coral species has actually increased relative to before the explosions.30 More recently, the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was degraded and consumed by bacteria at a remarkably fast rate.31

Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons to pick off pigeons for their next meal. As we destroy habitats, we create new ones: in the southwestern United States a rare and federally listed salamander species seems specialized to live in cattle tanks -- to date, it has been found in no other habitat.32 Books have been written about the collapse of cod in the Georges Bank, yet recent trawl data show the biomass of cod has recovered to precollapse levels.33 It's doubtful that books will be written about this cod recovery since it does not play well 
to an audience somehow addicted to stories of collapse and environmental apocalypse.

Even that classic symbol of fragility -- the polar bear, seemingly stranded on a melting ice block -- may have a good chance of surviving global warming if the changing environment continues to increase the populations and northern ranges of harbor seals and harp seals. Polar bears evolved from brown bears 200,000 years ago during a cooling period in Earth's history, developing a highly specialized carnivorous diet focused on seals. Thus, the fate of polar bears depends on two opposing trends -- the decline of sea ice and the potential increase of energy-rich prey. The history of life on Earth is of species evolving to take advantage of new environments only to be at risk when the environment changes again.

The wilderness ideal presupposes that there are parts of the world untouched by humankind, but today it is impossible to find a place on Earth that is unmarked by human activity. The truth is humans have been impacting their natural environment for centuries. The wilderness so beloved by conservationists -- places "untrammeled by man"34 -- never existed, at least not in the last thousand years, and arguably even longer.

The effects of human activity are found in every corner of the Earth. Fish and whales in remote Arctic oceans are contaminated with chemical pesticides. The nitrogen cycle and hydrological cycle are now dominated by people -- human activities produce 60 percent of all the fixed nitrogen deposited on land each year, and people appropriate more than half of the annual accessible freshwater runoff.35 There are now more tigers in captivity than in their native habitats. Instead of sourcing wood from natural forests, by 2050 we are expected to get over three-quarters of our wood from intensively managed tree farms. Erosion, weathering, and landslides used to be the prime movers of rock and soil; today humans rival these geological processes with road building and 
massive construction projects.36 All around the world, a mix of climate change and nonnative species has created a wealth of novel ecosystems catalyzed by human activities.

Scientists have coined a name for our era -- the Anthropocene -- to emphasize that we have entered a new geological era in which humans dominate every flux and cycle of the planet's ecology and geochemistry. Most people worldwide (regardless of culture) welcome the opportunities that development provides to improve lives of grinding rural poverty. At the same time, the global scale of this transformation has reinforced conservation's intense nostalgia for wilderness and a past of pristine nature. But conservation's continuing focus upon preserving islands of Holocene ecosystems in the age of the Anthropocene is both anachronistic and counterproductive.

Consider the decline of the orangutan, which has been largely attributed to the logging of their forest habitats. Recent field studies suggest that humans are killing the orangutans for bush meat and bounty at rates far greater than anyone suspected, and it is this practice, not deforestation, that places orangutans at the greatest peril.37 In order to save the orangutan, conservationists will also have to address the problem of food and income deprivation in Indonesia. That means conservationists will have to embrace human development and the "exploitation of nature" for human uses, like agriculture, even while they seek to "protect" nature inside of parks.

Conservation's binaries -- growth or nature, prosperity or biodiversity -- have marginalized it in a world that will soon add at least two billion more people. In the developing world, efforts to constrain growth and protect forests from agriculture are unfair, if not unethical, when directed at the 2.5 billion people who live on less than two dollars a day and the one billion who are chronically hungry. By pitting people against nature, conservationists actually create an atmosphere in which people see nature as the enemy. If people don't believe conservation is in their own best interests, then it will never be a societal priority. Conservation must demonstrate how the fates of nature and of people are deeply intertwined -- and then offer new strategies for promoting the health and prosperity of both.

One need not be a postmodernist to understand that the concept of Nature, as opposed to the physical and chemical workings of natural systems, has always been a human construction, shaped and designed for human ends. The notion that nature without people is more valuable than nature with people and the portrayal of nature as fragile or feminine reflect not timeless truths, but mental schema that change to fit the time.

If there is no wilderness, if nature is resilient rather than fragile, and if people are actually part of nature and not the original sinners who caused our banishment from Eden, what should be the new vision for conservation? It would start by appreciating the strength and resilience of nature while also recognizing the many ways in which we depend upon it. Conservation should seek to support and inform the right kind of development -- development by design, done with the importance of nature to thriving economies foremost in mind. And it will utilize the right kinds of technology to enhance the health and well-being of both human and nonhuman natures. Instead of scolding capitalism, conservationists should partner with corporations in a science-based effort to integrate the value of nature's benefits into their operations and cultures. Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity's sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people, especially the poor. Instead of trying to restore remote iconic landscapes to pre-European conditions, conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people, including city dwellers. Nature could be a garden -- not a carefully manicured and rigid one, but a tangle of species and wildness amidst lands used for food production, mineral extraction, and urban life.

Conservation is slowly turning toward these directions but far too slowly and with insufficient commitment to make them the conservation work of the 21st century. The problem lies in our reluctance, and the reluctance of many of conservation's wealthy supporters, to shed the old paradigms.

This move requires conservation to embrace marginalized and demonized groups and to embrace a priority that has been anathema to us for more than a hundred years: economic development for all. The conservation we will get by embracing development and advancing human well-being will almost certainly not be the conservation that was imagined in its early days. But it will be more effective and far more broadly supported, in boardrooms and political chambers, as well as at kitchen tables.

None of this is to argue for eliminating nature reserves or no longer investing in their stewardship. But we need to acknowledge that a conservation that is only about fences, limits, and far away places only a few can actually experience is a losing proposition. Protecting biodiversity for its own sake has not worked. Protecting nature that is dynamic and resilient, that is in our midst rather than far away, and that sustains human communities -- these are the ways forward now. Otherwise, conservation will fail, clinging to its old myths. /

Further Reading

"Conservation on a 'Spoiled' Earth," The Breakthrough, Winter 2012


The views here are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Nature Conservancy.

1. Butchart, S.H.M. et al. 2010. "Global Biodiversity: Indicators of Recent Declines." Science 328 (5982): 1164-68. Accessed July 4, 2011. (back)

2. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. State of the World's Forests 2011. Rome, 2011. (back)

3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2. Accessed on November 18, 2011. (back)

4. United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre. World Database on Protected Areas. Accessed on November 22, 2011. (back)

5. Ibid. (back)

6. Ellis, E.C. 2011. "Anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 396: 1010-35. (back)

7. Emerson, R.W. 1836. Nature. Boston: James Munroe and Company. Penguin. (back)

8. Leo Marx. 1964. The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America. Oxford University Press. (back)

9. Thoreau, H.D. 1854. Walden. Simon & Brown. (back)

10. Abbey, E. 1968. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness. New York: Ballantine Books. (back)

11. Muir, J. 1912. The Yosemite. New York: The Century Co. 8. (back)

12. Muir, J. 1913. "Lessons of the Wilderness." Atlantic Monthly. 111: 8; Fleck, Richard F. 1978. "John Muir's Evolving Attitudes toward Native American Cultures." American Indian Quarterly 4 (1): 19-31 (back)

13. Dowie, Mark. 2009. "Conservation: Indigenous People's Enemy No. 1?" Mother Jones, November 25. (back)

14. Agrawal, A., and K. Redford. 2009. "Conservation and displacement: An overview." Conservation and Society 7(1): 1. (back)

15. Dowie, M. 2009. Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-Year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. Boston: MIT Press. 12. (back)

16. Ibid. (back)

17. Dowie, Mark. 2005. "Conservation Refugees." Orion, November/December 2005. (back)

18. Emerton, L. 1999. "Balancing the Opportunity Costs of Wildlife Conservation for Communities Around Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda." Evaluating Eden Series discussion paper prepared for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). (back)

19. Curran, L.M. et al. 2004. "Lowland forest loss in protected areas of Indonesian Borneo." Science 303 (5660): 1000-3; Naughton-Treves, L., Holland, M.B. and K. Brandon. 2005. "The Role of Protected Areas in Conserving Biodiversity and Sustaining Local Livelihoods." Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30 (1): 219-252. (back)

20. Diamond, J. 2011. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail Or Succeed. New York: Penguin. (back)

21. Hunt, T. and C. Lipo. 2011. The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island. New York: Free Press. (back)

22. Carson, R. 1962. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (back)

23. Gore, A. 1992. Earth in the Balance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (back)

24. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. Washington D.C.: Island Press. (back)

25. Jones H.P. and O.J. Schmitz. 2009. "Rapid Recovery of Damaged Ecosystems." PLoS One 4(5): e5653. (back)

26. Nabuurs, G.J., O. Masera, K. Andrasko, P. Benitez-Ponce, R. Boer, M. Dutschke, E. Elsiddig, J. Ford-Robertson, P. Frumhoff, T. Karjalainen, O. Krankina, W.A. Kurz, M. Matsumoto, W. Oyhantcabal, N.H. Ravindranath, M.J. Sanz Sanchez, X. Zhang, 2007: Forestry. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. (back)

27. Dent, D.H. 2010. "Defining the Conservation Value of Secondary Tropical Forests." Animal Conservation 13: 14-15. (back)

28. Meijaard E., Welsh A., Ancrenaz M., Wich S., Nijman V., et al. 2010. "Declining Orangutan Encounter Rates from Wallace to the Present Suggest the Species Was Once More Abundant." PLoS One 5 (8): e12042. (back)

29. Sokolov V.E., Rjabov I.N., Ryabtsev I.A., Tikhomirov F.F., Shevchenko V.A., and A.I. Taskaev. 1993. "Ecological and genetic consequences of the Chernobyl atomic power plant accident." Vegetado 109: 91-99. (back)

30. Richards, Z.T. et al. 2008. "Bikini Atoll coral biodiversity resilience five decades after nuclear testing." Marine Pollution Bulletin 56: 503-515. (back)

31. Hazen, T.C. et al. 2010. "Deep-Sea Oil Plume Enriches Indigenous Oil-Degrading Bacteria." Science 330: 204-208. (back)

32. Collins, J.P. et al. 2009. "Sonora Tiger Salamander Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (back)

33. Frank, K. T. et al. 2011. "Transient dynamics of an altered large marine ecosystem." Nature 477: 86-89. (back)

34. Wilderness Act of 1964. Public Law 88-577 (16 U.S. C. 1131 1136) 88th Congress, Second Session September 3, 1964. (back)

35. Vitousek, P.M. et al. 1997. "Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems." Science 277: 494. (back)

36. Krausmann, F. et al. 2009. "Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century." Ecological Economics 68(10): 2696-2705. (back)

37. Marshall, A.J. et al. 2006. "The blowgun is mightier than the chainsaw in determining population density of Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus morio) in the forests of East Kalimantan." Biological Conservation 129: 566-578. (back)


Peter Kareiva is the Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy.


Michelle Marvier is professor and department chair at the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University.


Bob Lalasz is the director of science communications at The Nature Conservancy.


Ray Hilborn: Marine Park are Fishy April 2012

In "Conservation in the Anthropocene," Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier argue that conservation needs to move beyond parks and protected areas. While their arguments and examples are drawn from terrestrial ecosystems, much of their article is relevant to marine ecosystems, my field of study, and the new frontier for conservation. -- By Ray Hilborn

by Ray Hilborn

In "Conservation in the Anthropocene," Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier argue that conservation needs to move beyond parks and protected areas. They stress that ecosystems are generally resilient to perturbation, and rather than being irreparably damaged by the slightest anthropogenic impact, ecosystems can both support biodiversity and produce sustainable goods and services. While their arguments and examples are drawn from terrestrial ecosystems, much of their article is relevant to marine ecosystems, my field of study.

Marine ecosystems are the new frontier for conservation. And much of the funding for new scientific work has been directed towards the establishment of protected areas. It's important to note that while marine and terrestrial ecosystems share much in common, there are differences. One fundamental difference is the nature of human use. In terrestrial ecosystems, a dominant form of use is agriculture, which essentially rips out native ecosystems and replaces them with exotic species: crops, tree plantations, or grasses for grazing. Agriculture makes no pretense about preserving natural ecosystems.

In contrast, in marine ecosystems, we attempt to sustainably harvest the natural ecosystem. We leave the lower trophic levels -- primary producers and most of their consumers -- untouched, and exploit only the higher trophic levels. This has profound consequences. It means that even if the dreams of protecting 10 percent of the world's ocean, as set out in the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity, were to come true, most marine biodiversity will remain outside the boundaries. The struggle to maintain biodiversity is in the total anthropocene ocean; it will never be achieved through protected areas.

The marine conservation movement has been slow to grasp this. Similarly, it has failed to see that closing areas to fishing does not eliminate fishing pressure, it simply moves it. When an area is closed, fishing efforts concentrate outside protected areas. Consequently, simple comparisons of abundance inside and outside of reserves as a measure of "success" are meaningless. The salient question to ask is what happens to the total abundance.

One study sought to answer this question by tracking trends in abundance inside and outside of a set of reserves established in the California Channel Islands.1 Of the species targeted by commercial and recreational fishing, abundance went up inside reserves and down on the outside. Since 80 percent of the habitat is outside of the reserves, the data suggest that the total abundance of the targeted fish species actually declined. The gains inside were more than offset by the decreases on the outside.

In the case of the Channel Islands reserves, the creation of a protected area had a negative impact on abundance. In many other cases, protected areas have little to no impact. Two of the most heralded successes of the marine conservation movement have been the establishment of large protected areas in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the western Pacific US territories. If the measure of success is the amount of area proclaimed as protected, these are significant achievements. But if the objective is effective protection against real threats, the achievement is less because there was little, if any, human impact in those areas before protection.

There are many threats to marine ecosystems, including oil spills, exotic species, runoff from terrestrial sources, illegal fishing, excessive legal fishing, ocean acidification, and global warming. The marine parks movement does not recognize that most "protected areas" only "protect" from legal fishing, and not much else. Advocates argue that unfished ecosystems are more resilient to environmental perturbations such as exotic species, yet the same argument, if valid, must apply to areas outside of reserves. Since fishing pressure has been redirected to unprotected areas, those ecosystems ought to be more vulnerable to the same perturbation.

Kareiva et al. argue that the new conservation "requires conservation to embrace marginalized and demonized groups," and perhaps no group has been so demonized by the environmental movement as fishermen. Terms like "roving bandits" and "rapers and pillagers" permeate the public discussion. But luckily this is changing. The new marine conservation movement recognizes that conserving biodiversity requires more than merely controlling fishing. Progressive NGOs are working with fishing groups rather than demonizing them, a transformation that has entered into in marine conservation debates that attempt to find new solutions to the environmental impacts of fishing.

Kareiva et al. close by stating, "Protecting biodiversity for its own sake has not worked. Protecting nature that is dynamic and resilient, that is in our midst rather than far away, and that sustains human communities -- these are the ways forward now." This is as true in the marine world as in the terrestrial. There is certainly a role for protected areas. But the bulk of marine biodiversity will always be in the dynamic areas outside of them, areas that must be sustainably managed as we go forward.

Ray Hilborn is a professor in the school of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington.

1. Hamilton, S. L., J. E. Caselle, D. P. Malone, and M. H. Carr. 2010. "Incorporating biogeography into evaluation of the Channel Islands marine reserve network." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. (back)

Paul Robbins: Corporate partners could be a bad news

For the past 30 years, those who pointed to the inherent weaknesses and contradictions in traditional approaches to conservation were treated at best as marginal, and at worst, as anti-environmental. How things are changing. Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier herald the pragmatic arrival of this kind of critical thinking into the mainstream. But there also lurk challenges and contradictions in Kareiva et al.'s insufficiently articulated vision of the economy. -- By Paul Robbins

By Paul Robbins

For the past 30 years, those who pointed to the inherent weaknesses and contradictions in traditional approaches to conservation -- human exclusion, romance with wilderness, colonialism -- were treated at best as marginal, and at worst, as anti-environmental. How things are changing. Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier herald the pragmatic arrival of this kind of critical thinking into the mainstream and have laid out a manifesto that gathers together the threads of decades of critique into an action plan for the future. Their essay is part of a long tradition as well as a step forward; it is both a reinforcement of the wilderness-skeptical side of the conservation debate and a novel signaling of momentum toward a new, creative, and practical way to move forward, treating conservation as something we do on vacant lots, in gardens and agricultural watersheds. Most importantly, it surrenders the Malthusian villain that has long bedeviled colonial conservation: impoverished, native, urban, underdeveloped, or historically colonized people.

When William Cronon put "wilderness" under the microscope to reveal its strange, artificial, and deeply human origins back in 1995, it was not only to cause us to embrace conservation in urban and humanized environments around us, it was also to strip away the taint of elitism that traditional conservation and its anti-human agenda perpetually carried with it. Imagine conservation, in other words, that takes place in the gardens, plantations, and workshops of people around the world, as they struggle to make a living. These are not only potential allies, but ultimately must be leaders in turning the biodiversity crisis around.

This portends a real shift not just in doing conservation, but in rethinking the basis for all of what would best be termed the "Edenic sciences", including conservation biology as well as the fields of invasion biology and restoration ecology. Channeling their research into the explanation, analysis, and encouragement of diversity where people live and work, the authors herald a fundamental shift in hypotheses and methods in these sciences, as we move forward into the Anthropocene.

Having said this, there also lurk challenges and contradictions in Kareiva et al.'s insufficiently articulated vision of the economy. While calling on us to embrace "economic development for all," we are simultaneously told not to "scold capitalism." Reconciling this historically uncomfortable juxtaposition throws up a yellow flag in "Conservation in the Anthropocene."

Conservationists and capitalists who own firms share many goals, including efficiency (decreasing energy inputs), internalization of externalities (hazardous waste), and realizing value from things previously unvalued (orangutans). And there is certainly room for incentives or markets in pursuit of win-win ecologies. Clearly, it is critical to find ways to reward coffee plantation owners in central India, for example, for the enormous wealth of birds, mammals and insects they foster and sustain. Similarly, it is essential to provide remuneration to lure energy producers to invest in solar panels in urban brownfields and rooftops in the Southwest, rather than dig up nearby deserts. These kinds of solutions are likely to be monetized in some way or another.

But the record here is far from good. It is not especially radical to say that the surpluses that allow returns for investors, owners, and others have historically rested on finding ways to undercut, underinvest, and undervalue both labor and nature. Struggles against such a structural incentive are as important as harnessing the power of the economy. The evidence is more extensive than can be catalogued here, but it stretches from the maquiladoras of Mexico to the shores of Lake Erie, from the urban atmosphere of Beijing to the groundwater of India. Repeatedly, the reasons for uneven economic development coincide with those for environmental destruction.

Put simply, the central thrust of the authors' argument -- that exclusionary, anti-human and anti-poor models of conservation are doomed to fail -- need not lead us to a solution that demands its quick, chummy afterthought: "partnering with corporations." Coupling one with the other is discouraging in an otherwise visionary statement.

Paul Robbins is a professor and director in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona.

Kieran Suckling - Conservation for the Real World

Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier assert that in the 21st Century, "conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness... and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision... Conservation will likely continue to create parks and wilderness areas, but that will be just one part of the field's larger goals." Unfortunately, their article was written 100 years too late. -- By Kierán Suckling

By Kierán Suckling

Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier assert that in the 21st Century, "conservationists will have to jettison their idealized notions of nature, parks, and wilderness... and forge a more optimistic, human-friendly vision... Conservation will likely continue to create parks and wilderness areas, but that will be just one part of the field's larger goals."

Unfortunately, their article was written 100 years too late. The creation of parks and wilderness areas is a small part of the American environmental movement.1 If one excludes the anomalously wealthy, reserve-focused Nature Conservancy (for which two of the authors work), American environmental groups have for many decades expended the great majority of their resources on exactly the "new" task Kareiva et al. boldly assign them: better management of public and private working landscapes open to logging, grazing, mining, agriculture, development, etc.


The reason for this is obvious. Working landscapes make up a vastly larger percentage of the planet than fully protected areas. This will always be the case, because there will never be enough money, political will or even need to convert anything close to all biologically important lands and waters into fully protected areas.

Had the article been published a century ago, the author's decision to frame the environmental movement through a critique of Emerson (1803-1882), Hawthorne (1804-1864), Thoreau (1817-1862) and Muir (1838-1914) might have made sense. But alleged weaknesses of these dead white men is an entirely inadequate anchor for an essay that bills itself as a rethinking of contemporary environmentalism. Indeed, the only 20th century environmentalist mentioned in the essay is the novelist and essayist Ed Abbey. It is frankly bizarre that Kareiva et al.'s depiction of environmentalists is not based on NRDC, the Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, Environment America,, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, or indeed, any environmental group at all.

Bizarre, but necessary: Kareiva et al.'s "conservationist" straw man would have fallen to pieces had they attempted to base it on the ongoing work of actual conservation groups.

Consider their take on wilderness. The straw man is constructed by telling us (without reference to an actual conservation group, of course) that "the wilderness ideal presupposes that there are parts of the world untouched by humankind." Then the authors smugly knock it down with the shocking revelation that "The wilderness so beloved by conservationists -- places 'untrammeled by man' -- never existed."

Do Kareiva et al. expect readers to believe that conservation groups are unaware that American Indians and native Alaskans lived in huge swaths of what are now designated wilderness areas? Or that they mysteriously failed to see the cows, sheep, bridges, fences, fire towers, fire suppression and/or mining claims within the majority of the proposed wilderness areas they have so painstakingly walked, mapped, camped in, photographed, and advocated for? It is not environmentalists who are naïve about wilderness; it is Kareiva et al. who are naïve about environmentalists. Environmental groups have little interest in the "wilderness ideal" because it has no legal, political or biological relevance when it comes to creating or managing wilderness areas. They simply want to bring the greatest protections possible to the lands which have been the least degraded.

The phrase "untrammeled by man" is taken from The Wilderness Act of 1964. Contrary to Kareiva et al., "untrammeled" does not mean "untouched." Indeed, the phrase was specifically chosen by Congress to allow inclusion of human-altered lands if natural processes still predominated.2 The law even specifies a long list of developments and structures that do not disqualify wilderness designation; it allows for continued livestock grazing and mining after designation if these were preexisting uses.

"Truth," wrote Hegel, "is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two." The central problem of Kareiva et al. is that, having created an ideal thesis of conservation devoid of human impacts and interests, they are catapulted to the equally ideal antithesis of a world with only human impacts and interests. The real world of synthesis escapes them. Thus national parks "are no less human constructions than Disneyland" and "instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity's sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people."

So driven are they by the need to deny what they imagine is ecological pessimism, Kareiva et al. end up making an ideology of human optimism. But destruction of truth is the hallmark of ideologies. Here, it drives the authors to misrepresent, ignore, or obfuscate the science in virtually every example they give of nature being optimistically resilient to destructive impacts.

Coyotes in downtown Chicago are presented as an upbeat news story. In fact, the expansion of coyotes is due to anthropogenic habitat degradation and the widespread killing of larger, competing predators including wolves, bears, lions, and wolverines. Humans have caused every large carnivore in North America to decline over the past 200 years, while 60 percent of mid-sized carnivores, such as coyotes, have increased.3 This has led to cascading negative changes in the food web and even the vegetation. The real optimistic news is exactly the opposite of what the authors' contend: the reintroduction of wolves in some areas has reduced coyote numbers and reversed the negative cascading effects.4

Kareiva et al. celebrate the dramatic rebound of wildlife around Chernobyl and imply the rebound was possible because wildlife quickly adapted to extreme human impacts. In fact, wildlife increased because the radiation zone was depopulated of humans. Indeed, local wildlife not only rebounded, it has exceeded pre-disaster levels, and is now more populous in the radioactive/depopulated zone than in the still-populated zone outside the disaster area.5

Environmentalists' "classic symbol of fragility" -- the polar bear -- we are told, "may have a good chance of surviving global warming if the changing environment continues to increase the populations and northern ranges of harbor seals and harp seals." Nonsense. No credible scientist believes that polar bears, who hunt from sea-ice platforms, will rapidly evolve to sustain themselves hunting harbor seals in open water.6 To the contrary, polar bears are projected to be extirpated from the United States by mid-century and possibly to go extinct globally by century's end if global warming trends continue.7 To call the very remote possibility of polar bears adapting to an ice-free Arctic "a good chance" is not optimism; it's denial.

The authors cite Frank et al. (2011) to claim that cod on Georges Bank have "recovered to pre-collapse levels," then denounce environmentalists for refusing to acknowledge the recovery due to a pessimism "addiction." Indeed, environmentalists won't write about it... because it is not true. Frank et al. did not say cod have reached pre-collapse levels; they said cod have reached early 1990s levels -- well after the collapse. Elsewhere Frank et al. quantify the recovery as being just 34 percent of the pre-collapse level.8 And unfortunately, a recent reassessment of the data9 concluded that the recovery is actually weaker than that, which led to new commercial fishing restrictions in 2012 and the specter of massive restrictions in 2013.10

The endangered Sonora tiger salamander no more "specializes" in inhabiting stock tanks than inmates specialize in inhabiting prisons. We destroyed its habitat, and it simply has nowhere else to live. Far from being something to celebrate, the salamander's precarious existence resulted in its being placed on the endangered species list in 1997 along with two other species whose wetland habitat were destroyed.11

At a time when conservationists need honest, hard-headed reassessment of what works and what needs changing, Kareiva et al. offer little more than exaggerations, straw-man arguments and a forced optimism that too often crosses the line into denial. There are plenty of real biodiversity recovery stories to tell, but to learn from them, we have to take off the blinders of sweeping generalizations and pay attention to the details and complexities of real-world conservation work. That's the breakthrough we need to survive the Anthropocene.

Kierán Suckling is Executive Director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

1. My response is limited to American environmentalism, as that is my area of expertise. Given how erroneous and misleading the essay is in this area, however, readers should be wary of the authors' description of environmentalism in other nations. (back)

2. Scott, D. W. 2001. "'Untrammeled,' 'Wilderness Character,' and the Challenge of Wilderness Preservation." Wild Earth Fall/Winter 2001-2002:72-79. (back)

3. Prugh, L. R., et al. 2009. "The Rise of the Mesopredator." Bioscience, 59(9):779-791. (back)

4. Fortin, D. et al. 2005. "Wolves influence elk movements: behaviors shapes a trophic cascade in Yellowstone National Park." Ecology 86:1320-1330. (back)

5. Baker, R. J. et al. 2000. "The Chernobyl nuclear disaster and subsequent creation of a wildlife preserve." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 19(5):1231-1232. (back)

6. Derocher, A. E., et al. 2004. "Polar bears in a warming climate." Integrated and Comparative Biology 44:163-176. (back)

7. US Fish and Wildlife Service. 2008. Determination of Threatened Status for the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) Throughout its Range; Final Rule. May 15, 2008 (73 FR 28212). (back)

8. "Cod resurgence in Canadian waters." 2011. ScienceDaily, July 27, 2011. See also Figure F6 in Frank, K. T. et al. 2011. "Transient dynamics of an altered large marine ecosystem." Nature 477: 86-89. (back)

9. Northeast Fisheries Science Center. 2012. 53rd Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Workshop (53rd SAW) Assessment Summary Report. US Department of Commerce, Northeast Fisheries Science Center Reference Document 12-03; 33 pp. (back)

10. Lindsay, J. 2012. "Gulf of Maine cod fishers meet amid dim prospects." Associated Press, February 11, 2012. (back)

11. US Fish and Wildlife Service. 1997. Determination of Endangered Status for Three Wetland Species Found in Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora, Mexico. January 6, 1997 (62 FR 00665).

Barbara Martinez & Lisa Hayward - The Wrong Conservation message

We applaud Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier for broadening the constituency of the conservation movement, but regret that the message of "Conservation in the Anthropocene" seems at odds with their larger objective. For a reader outside the conservation community, the paper is likely to reinforce the misconception that the conservation movement is fueled by a dogmatic, nature-before-people ideology. At the same time, a reader within the conservation community is likely to chafe at the incompatibility of the authors' arguments with the consensus of best available science and with the scientific process in general.

We agree that conservation leaders should seek opportunities to come to the table with corporations. But engagement with industry introduces new risks, including the possibility that nonprofit organizations will damage their own credibility and the credibility of the movement through association with corporate "greenwashing" schemes. Effective negotiation, both with industry and with policy makers, requires a positive and forward-looking vision, along with a strategy for risk management. Unfortunately, we feel that neither a vision nor strategy have been outlined in the authors' paper, although we strongly suspect the authors are in a position to significantly inform both.


"Conservation in the Anthropocene" was written in the tone of a polemic, effectively eliciting an emotional response. The problem with this approach is the authors do not accurately represent contemporary conservation leaders. They reinforce the misconception that modern conservation sets nature apart from and above people.

The argument, "by its own measures, conservation is failing," implies that the only goal of conservation is to prevent the loss of biodiversity. Although a major goal is to prevent extinctions, it is not the only metric that conservationists should or do apply to measure success.1 The abbreviated history of the conservation movement outlined in "Conservation in the Anthropocene" reinforces the misconception of nature versus people, as does its identification of "economic development for all" as a long-standing "anathema" to conservationists. To the contrary, a recent survey of conservation scientists found more support for poverty alleviation than for creating protected areas of high biological diversity.2

Scientists are likely to object to the statement "conservation is failing," given the lack of an appropriate counterfactual argument (i.e., we cannot observe the state of our planet in the absence of the conservation movement). Many conservationists identify as successes the creation of the US Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Environmental Protection Agency, university and corporate level programs on sustainability, the establishment of protected areas and the growth in membership and impact of conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund for Nature. Without the nongovernmental organizations, legislation and federal agencies established and amended over the past 60 years, we might have lost our national symbol, the bald eagle, and the Cuyahoga River might still be on fire.

An effective conservation message should neither overstate the resilience of nature nor understate it. The authors' statement, "Nature is so resilient it can recover rapidly from even the most powerful human disturbances," cannot be tested empirically. Paleontology suggests that ecosystems can indeed experience large-scale collapse and take many millions of years to recover. The geologic record indicates that oceanic ecosystem collapse during the End Permian and the End Triassic mass extinctions followed from loss of functional redundancy among species; after each collapse it took up to 10 million years for ecosystem stability to be reestablished.3 While in a certain sense these events may be taken as evidence of "nature's" "rapid" recovery, they also represent an unacceptable outcome that could follow from the current anthropogenic extinction event. In a conservation context, emphasizing the ability of nature to recover rapidly from disturbance is an inappropriate response to an overemphasis on ecosystem fragility. Overstating nature's resilience undermines the authors' credibility and provides an unacceptable starting point for negotiations with business interests or policy makers. Coming from respected conservation leaders, the published statement is likely to carry significant weight and may even be used to set standards of legitimacy4 for future negotiations between conservation and industry interests.

In recent years, conservation has broadened its constituency in the corporate sector and the world by legitimizing and elevating sustainability as critically important. As we move forward, we should be careful to design metrics to evaluate success that reflect the goals of conservation, which include protecting the quality of life for all people and preventing extinctions. But conservation leaders must also take care to articulate their goals in ways that do not alienate or cause counterproductive divisions in the field.

Given the authors' experience in engaging business interests, they stand to offer valuable lessons in risk management and negotiation. We welcome a detailed plan for new approaches to conservation and vision for measureable success. Absent this, we worry that "Conservation in the Anthropocene" will diminish conservation's reputation and its capacity to spur positive change, and, at worst, may justify the distortions of those who seek to profit at the expense of both people and nature.

(We would like to acknowledge the contributions of the 2011-2012 AAAS S&T Policy Fellows Biodiversity Affinity Group, particularly Dr. Sean Watts, who played the devil's advocate.)

Lisa Hayward and Barbara Martinez are AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows.

1. Redford, K., et al. 2003. "Mapping the Conservation Landscape." Conservation Biology. 17: 116-131; Rudd, M.A. 2011. "Scientists' Opinions on the Global Status and Management of Biological Diversity." Conservation Biology. 25: 1165-1175. (back)

2. Rudd, M.A. 2011. "Scientists' Opinions on the Global Status and Management of Biological Diversity." Conservation Biology. 25: 1165-1175. (back)

3. Whiteside, J.H. and P.D. Ward. 2011. "Ammonoid diversity and disparity track episodes of chaotic carbon cycling during the early Mesozoic." Geology. 39: 99-102. (back)

4. Fisher, R., et al. 2011. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. 3rd ed. New York: Penguin Books.

Michelle MARVIER, Peter KAREIVA & Robert LASLAZ - Anthropocene revisited

Conservation is improving in its treatment of indigenous communities and attitudes toward people. But we should not go overboard with self-congratulation on this front. The change is neither complete nor a done deal. Conservation must not fall back into the ideological and impractical fortress mentality, a mentality that is insensitive to humans with needs that might supersede biodiversity. -- Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier respond to their critics.

Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier, who co-authored "Conservation in the Anthropocene" for Issue 2 of Breakthrough Journal, reply to criticism of their essay from Kierán Suckling, Paul Robbins, Ray Hilborn, and Lisa Hayward and Barbara Martinez.

It is hard to know where to begin in responding to the diverse comments on our "Conservation in the Anthropocene" piece. A fine place is to acknowledge the good intentions and decency of modern conservationists. Conservation is improving in its treatment of indigenous communities and attitudes toward people. But we should not go overboard with self-congratulation on this front. Conservation is not yet as enlightened as Lisa Hayward and Barbara Martinez would like to believe. Indeed, the same survey that Hayward and Martinez cite as revealing concern among conservationists for alleviating poverty also exposes room for improvement.1 For instance, in only 10 percent of responses did conservationists most strongly agree with the statement, "conservation priorities should be set by the people most affected by them."


Kieran Suckling's portrayal of the modern conservation movement as accommodating to and in harmony with the needs of people and working landscapes is ironic coming from someone who, in the past at least, has seen little room for grazing and logging on public lands.2 Minimally, it seems that Suckling does not share with ranchers the same vision of a working landscape. And outside the United States, acrid conflicts remain between conservationists and people denied the right to reclaim their native lands.3

Suckling is correct that US conservationists have in recent decades been coming to terms with the important role that Native Americans played in the pre-European landscape. We never asserted that conservationists were unaware of Native Americans. Our point was that conservationists have been preoccupied by historical baselines, and only recently has the goal of recreating the past been criticized as unrealistic.4 Suckling's organization, the Center for Biological Diversity, engages in legal battles to protect one endangered species at a time. We admire the accomplishments of his organization in defining critical habitats in the United States, but we do not feel this is a long-term model for sustainable conservation. People need forward-looking conservation that improves their lives and livelihoods, conservation that protects or restores mangroves, marshes and oyster reefs, which protect human communities from storm surge and rising sea levels.

Hayward, Martinez, and Suckling fear we overstate the resilience of nature. But the empirical data -- both modern studies of ecosystem recovery and the fossil record -- demonstrate the ability of nature to bounce back once a perturbation is curtailed. This hopeful news should inspire positive change. Wherever people can reduce the quantity and extent of such disruptions, nature will flourish again. When we argue that nature is resilient, we are proposing a hypothesis that can be scientifically tested. In fact, we are currently testing, via rigorous analysis, the response of ecosystems to hundreds of major perturbations. But Hayward and Martinez fear any admission of nature's resilience will give license for unfettered environmental destruction. Their concerns are a manifestation of conservationists' penchant for doom-and-gloom scenarios. Suckling claims that our argument is with dead white men, when in fact our argument is with living conservationists who use scare tactics to justify their unwillingness to compromise.

Suckling accuses us of ideological optimism, while emphasizing the bad news surrounding fisheries and polar bears. Our point was not to deny the existence of real ecological threats, but to bemoan the fact that conservationists seem to downplay good news. The six-fold increase in the abundance of the demersal community cited by Ray Hilborn is a real success, not ideological optimism. And while polar bears certainly are at risk, scientists have found evidence of them exploiting new food sources5 and of past rapid evolution and hybridization with grizzly bears.6

We believe we correctly characterized the failure of conservation, our metrics being the continued loss of habitat and species. But it is true that species have been saved by the Endangered Species Act and similar laws elsewhere. And thanks to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, Americans live much healthier lives today than 50 years ago. Unfortunately, conservationists had little to do with the protection of air and water. In fact, modern conservation is notable for its inattention to water pollution and air quality in places like Beijing and Mumbai, which are seen as largely irrelevant to the biodiversity mission.

Finally, we find it remarkable that some of our critics maintain the adolescent view that corporations are evil and not to be trusted, as though they were run by people somehow less ethical and less decent than conservation organizations. Yes, some corporations do harm and behave badly, but so do conservationists on occasion. Ecologists know that strongly interacting species such as killer whales, wolves and starfish determine ecosystem structure and dynamics. In modern ecosystems, those strongly interacting "species" are often global corporations. A handful of agricultural companies are responsible for 70 percent of the soy trade out of Brazil. Walmart, through its massive purchasing power, is able to reshape supply chains in favor of conservation outcomes. Over 80 percent of the Fortune 500 companies issue sustainability reports and have some sort of institutional effort aimed at sustainability. Of course, corporations have different goals than conservation organizations. But there are instances where the interests of conservation and business align, and the critique of capitalism and corporations that seems to infect our critics is a recipe for ineffectiveness and failure.

Our essay was meant to provoke conservationists to rethink old metaphors and assumptions, and to embrace new ways of doing things. We are pleased to see change afoot in marine conservation with leaders such as Hilborn leading the charge. But the change is not complete and the enlightenment assumed by Suckling, Hayward and Martinez remains an aspiration, not a done deal. Conservation must not fall back into the ideological and impractical fortress mentality, a mentality that is insensitive to humans with needs that might supersede biodiversity.

Peter Kareiva is chief scientist and vice president of The Nature Conservancy. He, along with Michelle Marvier, is the author of Conservation Science. Robert Lalasz is director of science communications for The Nature Conservancy and founding editor of the Conservancy's blog, "Cool Green Science". Michelle Marvier is professor and department chair of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University.

1. Rudd, M.A. 2011. "Scientists' opinions on the global status and management of biological diversity." Conservation Biology, 25: p. 1165-1175. (back)

2. McGivney, A. 2011. "Moses or Menace?" Backpacker, 2003. 31(1): p. 47. (back)

3. Beymer-Ferris, B. and T. Bassett. 2011. "The REDD menace: Resurgent protectionism in Tanzania's mangrove forests." Global Environmental Change, December. See also De Santo, E.M., P.J.S. Jones, and A.M.M. Miller, "Fortress conservation at sea: A commentary on the Chagos marine protected area." Marine Policy, 35: p. 258-260. (back)

4. Jackson, S.T. and R.J. Hobbs. 2011. "Ecological restoration in the light of ecological history." Science, 325: p. 568-569. (back)

5. Rockwell, R.F. and L.J. Gormezano. 2009. "The early bear gets the goose: Climate change, polar bears and lesser snow geese in western Hudson Bay." Polar Biology, 32: p. 539-547. (back)

6. Lindqvist, C., et al. 2010. "Complete mitochondrial genome of a Pleistocene jawbone unveils the origin of polar bear." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 107: p. 5053-5057. See also Edwards, C.J., et al. 2011. "Ancient hybridization and an Irish origin for the modern polar bear matriline." Current Biology, 21: p. 1251-1258.