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Ecosystems – Preservation vs. Conservation

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The most important of the inherent values of natural ecosystems is that they contain within themselves creative powers, which, over large spans of time, have produced the stupendous array of biodiversity the world over. The presence of a species and the things that it can do have a powerful bearing on shaping the environment of all. Organisms help to make the world and then it makes them. Humans are among the most complex of the achievements of the natural forces found uniquely in these creative ecosystems.

Over long periods, the following processes have been learned or have come into being from these systems: food production through photosynthesis; the building of soils; the creation of food chains; water cycles; nitrogen fixation; massive precipitation of oceanic carbon dioxide into limestone; complex food chains; the evolution of thousands of herbivores and carnivores; the recycling of dead organisms; the conversion of toxic chemicals into harmless substances; the creation of thousands of kinds of co-operative, symbiotic and harmonious relationships among species; wondrous bird, insect and animal calls and songs; the stupendous beauty and grace in animal and plant form; insect and bird flight, to mention a few. In addition, through these creative processes of the ecosphere, inconceivable ecosystems (forests, wetlands, coral reefs) have emerged and have persisted and become ever more stable over billions of years. All the above are just part of the Earth’s Garden of Eden–a mysterious and miraculous living sphere created through the operation of natural laws.

To most people, the notion that national parks. native woodlots, patches of native prairie, wetlands or wilderness areas possess inherent values that are vitally important to them and their children may be difficult to accept. Centuries of culture and learning have taught us “only people are important.” But what alternative is there to setting in motion a series of actions by governments (since they make policy and are in charge of humanity’s affairs) at all levels in a major effort to reverse present trends and secure the survival of the natural processes that are found in wild Nature? What alternatives are there to restoring the Earth?

Ecosystem Preservation and Conservation

Ecosystems are dynamic complexes of biotic communities and their associated abiotic environments interacting as functional units. An ecosystem approach to conservation is the management of natural resources using system wide concepts to ensure that all plants and animals in the ecosystem are maintained at viable levels in native habitats and basic ecosystem processes are perpetuated indefinitely (Clark and Zaunbrecher, 1987).

An ecosystem approach to preservation and conservation involves protecting or restoring the function, structure, and species composition of an ecosystem, recognizing that all components are interrelated (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1994).

Large-scale approaches, at the level of ecosystems and landscapes, are the most reliable way to conserve biological diversity. Such approaches avoid the problems that plague species-by-species methods that quickly exhaust time, financial resources, public patience, and scientific research resources (Franklin, 1993).

Another important aspect of an ecosystem approach to preservation and conservation is the ability to integrate ecosystem protection and restoration with human values and needs as a way to strengthen the connection between economic prosperity and environmental well being. The Service recognizes the fundamental connection between human communities and the environment. To this end, the Service’s approach provides a “framework” that brings together federal, state, local, and tribal governments and the public to achieve the ultimate goal of a healthy and sustainable environment. Within this framework, goals are developed based on collaboratively developed visions of desired future conditions, future conditions that integrate ecological, economic, and social factors within a geographic framework defined by ecological boundaries. A number of ecosystem teams and a variety of other public and private partnerships support the framework.


The natural regulation of wildlife may involve both an animal’s internal physiology and its external environment. To varying degrees, wildlife populations exhibit “self regulation,” which means their growth tends to slow down as the population becomes denser and to increase if their numbers decline – a biofeedback response. For example, as more elk inhabit the same range, the cows carry less fat and produce fewer calves, and the calves that are born weigh less and are therefore less likely to survive. As the northern Yellowstone elk population has grown, researchers have documented a decline in pregnancy rates and increases in the winter mortality of calves, yearlings, and older bulls.

Environmental factors such as climate and predation also play a large role in controlling an animal population. During a predation study done from 1987 to 1990, about one third of the elk born on the Northern Range were lost within one month to predation by grizzly bears, black bears, coyotes, and golden eagles, and an average of 20% of the population died each winter, mostly from undernutrition in the very young and very old.

However, while a policy of natural regulation may work for elk on the Northern Range, it’s not appropriate in all wildlife management situations. National Park Service policy and federal legislation will continue to require intervention in certain circumstances – for example, to restore wolves and native fish, to suppress exotic plants and animals, to fight fire in specified situations, and to cull bison. Hunting on public lands adjacent to the park can also be used to complement natural regulation. The challenge is to pay careful attention to the consequences of ecosystem processes while resisting the temptation to step in to “fix a problem” that may be more complex or of a different type than first appears.





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