Value of Maintaining Natural Ecosystems

Essay by kelkinseyCollege, UndergraduateA, December 2006

download word file, 7 pages 4.2

Downloaded 319 times

Conservation and preservation are two important philosophical approaches to the protection of the environment. While preservation focuses on protection of the environment for its own sake, conservation instead sees protection of the environment for the purpose of human needs and desires. Natural succession is an important concept in environmental protection, and can be used within either a conservationist or preservationist setting. In Cleveland Metro parks, natural succession in the deer population has failed leading to overpopulation, and calls for culling that are often opposed by preservationist groups. Other areas in the Cleveland show the conservation in action, including the famous clean-up effort on the Cuyahoga River. Forest Hill Park is also the site of significant conservation activity.

Preservation and conservation are two fundamentally opposed philosophical approaches to environmental protection. The philosophy of the preservationists has its roots in the ideas of John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892.

Muir and other later preservationists felt that the environment should be protected and saved for its own sake. "Aldo Leopold furthered the philosophy, seeing humans as an intrinsic part of nature, rather than the owners or nature. Leopold and Robert Marshall formed the Wilderness Society in 1935" (ThinkQuest, 2006).

Conservationists felt that the environment should be saved for human purposes, and did not object to using natural resources for human needs. Some of the earliest conservationists were Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinochet. "These conservationists felt that natural resources should be replenished, rather than depleted by human activities, and often focused on the economic advantages of the environment" (ThinkQuest, 2006). Today, conservation is defined as the "sustainable use and protection of natural resources including plants, animals, mineral deposits, soils, clean water, clean air, and fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas" (Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2006).

Both conservation and preservation have an important relationship to the maintenance of ecosystems. Since preservationists argue that nature should be protected for its own sake, they also argue that ecosystems should be protected from the harmful effects of man. To the preservation, the value of preserving natural ecosystems is intrinsic; the value lies in the maintenance of the ecosystem itself, as well as in the preservation of plant and animal life and the natural environment within that ecosystem.

For the conservationist, the value of the maintenance of an ecosystem lies essential depends on whether the ecosystem has value to human purposes. If maintaining an ecosystem is beneficial (or perhaps value neutral) for humans, then the ecosystem should be maintained. However, if maintaining the ecosystem is not beneficial to humans goes the conservationist argument, then the ecosystem should not be maintained. For example, wilderness areas and national parks are commonly protected from mining and logging because these activities would "reduce the economic, recreational, and aesthetic values of the resource" (Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2006).

Often, the benefits of natural ecosystems to humans are difficult to measure, making for some controversy within the conservationist movement. Specifically, it is often difficult to establish the benefits of forest and wetland ecosystems in terms of better air and water quality, as well as other environmental benefits in terms of economic benefit. "As such, these areas are commonly the targets of development" (Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia, 2006).

A number of current conservation issues have a direct impact upon the maintenance of natural ecosystems. Conservationists often argue that it is important to protect biodiversity (defined as "the number and variety of different organisms and ecosystems in a certain area) in order to allow ecosystems to respond to damage or change. Biodiversity allows ecosystems to recover after environmental changes like disease, wildfire, or drought. "Further, humans greatly benefit from biodiversity, as medicines, crops, and other products are often found as a result of maintaining biodiversity" (Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2006).

The degradation of natural ecosystems can have a profound effect on human activities, note conservationists. Importantly, the sources of freshwater supplies (including reservoirs, rivers, and groundwater) are in danger due to the degradation of ecosystems. Restoration of watersheds (areas that drain into a shared waterway) through restoring natural vegetation can increase the filtering and storage capacity of watersheds, thus reducing erosion and flooding. "Further, restoration of wetland ecosystems stabilizes groundwater supplies, and acts as a natural measure to control flooding" (Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia, 2006).

The concept of natural regulation can be used within either a preservation or conservation context. Essentially, natural regulation simply involves allowing nature to act without the interference of man. "In many wildlife populations, population growth is reduced as numbers increase, but reduced as numbers decline, showing natural regulation in action" (The National Park Service, n.d.).

However, The National Park Service in Yellowstone National Park notes that natural regulation is not always appropriate in all wildlife management situations. In many situations, animal and plant populations are regulated by human actions, through the restoration of native fish and mammals, fighting fire, reducing the presence of exotic animals and plants, and in culling the numbers of some animals. Human regulation of the natural ecosystem is a complex process, where 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" (The National Park Service, n.d.).

Today, woodlands in the Cleveland Metro- parks are facing an extensive overpopulation of deer, brought on by the elimination of predators like wolves, and growth in 'edge' areas of woodland habitat offering suburban backyards with gardens and shrubs. Traditionally, natural succession in deer population would see dramatic increases in population when conditions were good and dramatic reductions when conditions were poor. In the absence of predators, the deer population is now unable to achieve natural succession, causing a substantial impact on other animals and plants. A 1997 vegetation survey of Cleveland-area parks notes that many small mammals and birds have been impacted by loss of food and ground cover. Small animals like chipmunks are rarely seen along bike paths and trails. "As of 1998, a local task force and wildlife biologist Tom Stanley recommended culling the deer population to restore ecosystem diversity" (Kuznik, 2006).

However, some preservationists strongly oppose culling the deer population in the area. In northern Ohio, the Defense of Deer organization obtained a court injunction to stop culling of deer in the area. The group argues that the problem is not with deer, but with the unrealistic expectations of suburban dwellers who are upset that deer are eating their shrubs. Further, group founder Bonnie Vlach argues that "If you just leave well enough alone, the system will regulate itself", showing a clear preference for natural succession in the area (Kuznik, 2006).

In some areas, like the Allegheny Plateau, over browsing by deer has had a permanent effect on the ecosystem. In this area, the natural succession of a number of species has been replaced, permanently, by a lower and less diverse order. "Here, ecosystem diversity has been compromised by deer overpopulation resulting from a failure of natural succession in the deer population, thus creating a less diverse ecosystem and the development of new natural succession among other species in the area" (Kuznik, 2006).

There are numerous examples of preservation and conservation practices around the Cleveland, Ohio area. Perhaps the most famous conservation measure involves the Cuyahoga River. In 1969, toxic waste fires on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland "became an international symbol of environmental degradation" (EcoCity Cleveland), and "played an important role in creating media and public awareness of the need for environmental protection" (Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, 2006).

"The ensuing legislation of the Clean Water Act and Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement played an important role in cleaning up the Cuyahoga River" (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2006). "Today, the river boast a large number of areas focused on human leisure, including bike trails and entertainment spots" (EcoCity Cleveland, 2006). Conservation activities in the area continue, designed to "restore the beneficial uses of the Cuyahoga River" (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2006). "These conservation actions include restoration of habitat, stewardship of streams, identification of wetlands, navigation channel dissolved oxygen/larval fish studies, managing urban stormwater, and comprehensive environmental education" (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2006).

An article by the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund on Forest Hill Park (located in the urban areas Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland) also demonstrates the principles of conservation. The group notes that recreation areas in the park (consisting of parking lots, ball fields, a recreation center and playgrounds) has had a significant impact on the park's ecosystem. Impacts include "soil erosion, invasive species, soil compaction, habitat fragmentation, storm water runoff, and impervious surfaces" (Ohio Parks and Recreation Association, 2006). "The group notes that conservation efforts should mimic the function of natural ecosystems, protecting the park from overuse" (Ohio Parks and Recreation Association, 2006).

In conclusion, preservation and conservation have profoundly different understandings of the value of maintaining natural ecosystems. Overall, conservation seems to be the most prominent form of ecosystem protection in the Cleveland area, as demonstrated by conservation efforts on the Cuyahoga River, and Forest Hill Park. While preservation and conservation may have different underlying philosophies, it is important to note that both can work together to help protect natural ecosystems.


EcoCity Cleveland. (2006). The Cuyahoga: Our Crooked River of City and Country. Retrieved

August 4, 2006 from

Kuznik, Frank. (2006). Eating Themselves Out of House and Home. National Wildlife

Federation. Retrieved August 4, 2006, from

Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. (2006). Conservation. Retrieved August 4, 2006,


National Park Service. (2006). How Does Natural Regulation Work? The Official Website of

Yellowstone National Park.

Ohio Parks and Recreation Association. (2006). Restoring a Historic Urban Park: The Clean

Ohio Fund & Forest Hill Park. Retrieved August 4 2006, from

ThinkQuest. (2006). Environment: A Global Challenge. Preservationists versus

Conservationists. Retrieved August 4 2006, from

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2006). Cuyahoga River Area of Concern. Retrieved

August 4 2006, from