Conservation is often portrayed as an applied science—a corpus of knowledge about how ecological systems function, how they are threatened, and how they can be maintained. Conservation is also a form of management. It entails working with people to achieve desired ecological outcomes, grappling with conflicting land-use objectives, and making optimal use of available conservation resources. The aim of this book is to build a bridge between these two perspectives, linking theory with practice.
The challenge in wading into the practical aspects of conservation is that much depends on local circumstances. The types of threats matter; the existing laws and policies matter; institutions matter; the values and concerns of local people matter; history matters, and so on. In short, how conservation is done depends on where it is done. Most conservation texts address this issue by incorporating case studies from different regions. Readers are left to figure out for themselves how all the pieces fit together and how conservation is actually practiced in their region.
In this book, I take a different approach. The entire narrative is structured around one specific region: Canada. This permits an integrated treatment, where conservation theory is presented in the context of the social and institutional framework responsible for its implementation. The result is a synthesis tailored to the needs of conservation students and practitioners in Canada.
Given the book’s applied focus, special attention is given to issues that are the subject of debate or controversy. Conservation practitioners will invariably encounter these issues and should be prepared to deal with them. Moreover, these debates provide valuable insights into the practical aspects of conservation. Some of the issues explored in the text include:
- How do we determine how much conservation is enough—a ubiquitous question that arises in the context of protecting habitat, limiting industrial activities, and many other applications
- What do we mean by “natural”?
- Is the aim of conservation to achieve the most good for the most species, or is it acceptable to prioritize some species over others?
- Are conservation practitioners dispassionate scientific advisors or biodiversity advocates?
- What does it mean to maintain biodiversity when ecosystems are fundamentally changing because of global warming?
- Does the advent of “new conservation,” centred on the delivery of ecosystem services, support or hinder the conservation of biodiversity?
- What is the difference between science and Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge, and what are their respective roles in decision making?
Chapter 1 introduces fundamental concepts and provides a conservation framework that subsequent chapters build on. The next four chapters provide the social and scientific context of conservation, setting the stage for the applied chapters that follow. In these initial chapters, we learn the “what” and “why” of conservation. We are also introduced to the factors that constrain it.
Chapters 6–8 are devoted to the practice of conservation at both the species level and the ecosystem level. In these chapters, we learn the “how” of conservation and acquire an understanding of the relationship between theory and practice. We also gain insight into the role of conservation practitioners in the overall enterprise of conservation.
Chapter 9 presents an overview of the ecological changes expected as a result of climate change and what these changes mean for conservation. Specific consideration is given to the adjustments that need to be made to conservation objectives and conservation practices.
Chapter 10 focuses on decision making and planning. This topic is often overlooked by conservation students, who may be more interested in the ecological aspects of conservation. Nonetheless, it is central to the practice of conservation. Not much happens without a policy, strategy, or implementation plan to encapsulate decisions about priorities, limits, and choices among management alternatives. Knowing how to make effective decisions is an essential skill for conservation practitioners.
Chapter 11 presents a suite of integrated case studies—both successes and failures. In this chapter, we revisit the main conservation themes of the earlier chapters from a practical perspective. Here we see how all the pieces fit together. The case studies are designed to illustrate the complexities of real-world conservation and to provide additional insight into how conservation theory is translated into practice.
The final chapter examines applied conservation from the perspective of effectiveness. We look back over what we have learned, highlighting the factors that are typically associated with successful conservation outcomes. We also discuss the training and tools needed for maximizing effectiveness at the personal level.
My hope is that readers will come away from this book with a solid understanding of the “big picture” of conservation in Canada. There is, of course, much more to learn, both in terms of ecological theory and management techniques. But this book will provide a sound foundation to build on. Moreover, readers will have a clear sense of what it is to be a conservation practitioner and how to be effective in this role.