Preservation or conservation?



By Gaby Gerken

When it comes to our ideas and opinions on the environment, my crew usually splits into two camps. One side fights for the trees and increasing sustainability, while the other advocates our efforts towards conservation and restoring the environment to what it once was. One side would prefer to work with animals, humans and policy in an office setting, while the other would prefer to use tools, biology and fight fires in the field. Usually it boils down to Carly and me vs. Steve and Sou; preservation vs. conservation. Steve always wins due to crew leader status… but we try our best to have a nice a debate!

For example, for a few days this past spring our job was to walk a trail in central Minnesota and spray herbicide on any sweet clover that we found. Sweet clover is considered to be an invasive species, and we could see it had definitely spread all over, probably because of the disturbance the trail made when it was first installed. The boys were all set on removing them because they had taken over, while the girls were more hesitant. The plants were covered in bees collecting pollen and we knew that they made excellent honey and food for cows. We didn’t want to spray them because of this, especially when we were focusing only on taking the invasive out but with no plan to put natives back in.

Another example comes down to oak savannas. Like you’ve read in previous posts, oak savannas are a critically endangered habitat that is losing ground every day. This month we spent some time restoring them by cutting down all of the red oaks, which tend to outgrow the burr oaks. The girls say that we should let the plants and animals go where they want to go. Why should we waste time and gas cutting down perfectly good trees that have moved into the savanna? The way we see it, climate change is going to keep plants and animals on the move, and we should let them go where they want. The boys think that these areas and the animals that live there are critically endangered, and they see the vision and opportunity that restoring them presents.

In the end, the girls tend to see things in terms of what the future looks like. We see invasive species as a continuing problem and a never-ending battle. We would prefer to work on educating people about the damage we are causing and changing actions and policies to reflect sustainable methods and preserving what we have (hopefully without the use of too many resources). On the other side, the boys want to fix our past problems to prevent our natural resources from being lost or wasted. Someone needs to restore the prairies and savannas in order to conserve them for the future and show people what they are saving.

Which side is right? Who gets to make the rules? Is it better to keep what we have or change human behaviors so that more changes don’t happen in the future?

You need to see the problems from all angles in order to fix them. While Carly and I may not continue on in the field of natural resources, Conservation Corps will certainly have given us enough practical knowledge to continue on whatever path we choose.