UW News

November 5, 2014

Incorporate more voices to loosen conservation gridlock, scientists urge

News and Information

More diverse voices could help break a deadlock gripping the conservation community, according to a commentary in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Nature and a petition with 238 co-signatories – including a dozen from the University of Washington.

UW signatories
Dee Boersma
Emily Carrington
Lisa Graumlich
Estella Leopold
Julia Parrish
Billie Swalla
Tim Essington
Gordon Holtgrieve
Josh Lawler
Julian Olden
Daniel Schindler
Robert Paine
Tessa Francis
Ginger Rebstock

“An age-old conflict around a seemingly simple question has resurfaced: Why do we conserve nature?” the piece in Nature begins. “Contention around this issue has come and gone many times, but in the past several years we believe that it has reappeared as an increasingly acrimonious debate between, in essence, those who argue that nature should be protected for its own sake – intrinsic value – and those who argue that we must also save nature to help ourselves – instrumental value.”

In the Pacific Northwest, for example, there are those who advocate that salmon and forests have value all by themselves – nature for nature’s sake, according to Julia Parrish, associate dean of academic affairs and diversity for the UW College of the Environment. Others believe salmon and forests should be protected because they provide commodities, such as food and wood products, and because well-managed streams and forest lands provide ecosystem services such as clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration and temperature regulation.

“What began as a healthy debate has, in our opinion, descended into vitriolic, personal battles in universities, academic conferences, research stations, conservation organizations and even the media,” wrote the co-authors who include lead authors Nature Conservancy’s Heather Tallis and former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco. “We believe that this situation is stifling productive discourse, inhibiting funding and halting progress.”

To help better capture the joint interests of intrinsic and instrumental values, the signatories call for more inclusiveness, particularly of the many different values people hold for nature, and of the viewpoints of women and diverse ethnicities and cultures.

Looking down into treetops and dead snags

Should plants and animals be protected for their own sakes – intrinsic value – or should we save nature to help ourselves – instrumental value ¬– are questions facing conservationists.M Levin/U of Washington

“The big change that’s needed is diversifying the voices in the room,” said Parrish, who is also a professor of aquatic and fishery sciences.

At the UW, steps in that direction include a conservation scholars program that the College of the Environment inaugurated last summer to attract, train and employ individuals from communities that are largely absent from the conservation workforce. Twenty-six freshman and sophomore college students from across the nation participated in an intensive eight weeks of activities and will return each of the next two summers for additional conservation training.

“Approaching conservation problems with representative perspectives and a broad base of respect, trust, pragmatism and shared understanding will more quickly and effectively advance our shared vision of a thriving planet.” the Nature commentary co-authors wrote.


For more information:
Parrish, 206-221-5787, jparrish@uw.edu
Lisa Graumlich, dean, College of the Environment, 206-221-0908, graumlic@uw.edu