Picture of Larry Neilsen

Hunters? The Surprising Origin of Conservation and Why it Matters

Like it or not, there’s stuff that we need from our planet. We need food, we need water, and we need the land to get both of those things and much more. But that doesn’t mean that we have to tear the world apart to get it. We need to work with the planet, not against it. Conservationists understood this from the beginning and Larry Nielsen shows us why it matters.

Who is Larry Nielsen?

“Conservation is really understanding that it’s not save everything, or people are evil, but that together, nature and conservation can produce great things.

Larry Nielsen is a professor at N.C. State and the author of Nature’s Allies, a book that follows eight notable conservationists and their triumphs. Conservation and environmentalism sometimes get bad names (especially where I’m from.) But those movements aren’t just about humans sacrificing everything to stop taking from our planet. It’s just about being smart.

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Environmentalism vs. Conservation

Back home, environmentalism conjures up images of people chaining themselves to trees to save rainforests. And sometimes that’s what’s needed. But Larry draws a line between environmentalism and conservation that removes that “zero-sum” mentality.

“The conservation perspective is the important one, I think. We recognize that our lifestyle, our quality of life, is really a function of using nature well to provide the resources that we need.”

Instead of trying to stop every person in the world from taking from our planet, we can simply be smart. We can strategize about the best way to use the resources that we have so that they can sustain us for the long term.

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Conservation’s Surprising Origins

Conservation is a young movement and a young discipline. It’s only about 100 years old – much younger than environmentalism. However, conservation didn’t start with environmentalists who wanted to stop taking from the planet. It came from hunters.

“The people who have supported conservation and developed conservation were originally hunters and fishermen. That’s where the conservation business came from. They were people who lived and enjoyed being close to nature, close to those resources. And they [were] the first ones to realize when things [were] going off the rails. And they were the ones that said we need to support conservation.”

Crazy, right?

Some people think of hunters and fishermen as people who take indiscriminately from the world around them. But think about the regulations that they have to follow. Hunting and fishing seasons create boundaries and limits on how much they can hunt or fish. Those controls establish a partnership between our planet and the people living on it.

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Why Conservation Matters

The idea behind the controls for hunting and fishing are about creating a balance between what we take from our planet and what we leave alone. Those ideas can be extended to the energy we consume, the food we grow, the land we cultivate, and so many other vital industries. Conservationists don’t demonize you for harvesting from the earth. They just want to make sure we don’t overload the systems we rely on. I think Larry says it best when he says:

“It seems to me that the work of conservation is to find that balance, that genius, that allows us to live sustainably on earth with nature as a partner, rather than something to be conquered.”

Couldn’t agree more, Larry. Conservationists look for a win-win between the people living on this planet and the planet itself. That sounds like a pretty good partnership, doesn’t it?


This interview is part of the Prosperity Roadmap. Photo credit Wade Basuel.

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