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Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Hull, R. B., D. P. Robertson, and G. J. Buhyoff. 2003. Beyond the interventionist-preservationist duality. Conservation Ecology 7(1): r4. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/resp4/

Response to Rowe (2003). "Much more than ecological scale and 'nature knowing best' hiding in environmental decisions"

Beyond the Interventionist-Preservationist Duality

R. Bruce Hull1, David P. Robertson1, and Gregory J. Buhyoff2

1Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University2Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Published: March 5, 2003

Ecological understandings and environmental policies are based in deep-seated philosophical traditions, including beliefs about the balance of nature, religious teachings, and philosophies of evolution. Historians, with the benefit of hindsight, have demonstrated that ecological science, land use policies, and public opinion often tend to reflect the prevailing philosophical tradition. The literature reviewed in our paper and in the response by Rowe (2003) discusses some of these findings. Our empirical study attempted to show how these deep-seated beliefs continue to influence philosophical debates and scientific research about forest management. We argued that these beliefs, typically disguised and hidden from view, are used to justify a dualist philosophy that polarizes and paralyzes environmental negotiations. This polarization between interventionist and preservationist dogma has long haunted environmental policy and science.

On all of these points we agree with Rowe. However, we seem to disagree on where to go from here. We believe that it is time to find a way around the polarization. It is time to craft an alternative vision of humanity's relationship with nature. We need to move beyond presenting ourselves with the "either/or" choice of raping vs. preserving nature. We need to lose our innocence and accept our responsibility for nature. Further, we need to blur the distinction between culture and nature and make an open continuum out of the more simplistic and polarizing intervention-preservation dichotomy. Rowe states an explicit preference for preservation and, seemingly trapped by the dualist philosophy, has no place to pigeon-hole those of us in favor of intervention except as a polar opposite. The battle lines are drawn before alternative solutions can even be considered. We are classified as the other and treated as the enemy. It is exactly this polarization that bioculturalism strives to avoid.

Instead of polarizing humans and nature, we need to open up the broad middle ground where we can feel good about interacting with nature. We must look forward to the potential of nature rather than backward to what nature was in the past. We should imagine a future Eden with people living in the garden, caring for nature rather than being banished and allowed to return only as temporary visitors seeking recreational experiences or scientific insights. Nature can be tended, and tending can be a good thing. This biocultural ethic, we believe, might be a more sustainable and spirited environmental ethic. It builds into our culture an appreciation and respect not only for nature, but also for our relationship with nature, and not just for preserved wild nature but for all forms of nature from parks to parking lots. The conclusion to our paper cites some of the literature in which these important ideas are debated.

Rowe (2003) seems to assume that intervention is always guilty of hubris and always motivated by anthropocentric, utilitarian concerns. "Ecological restoration" provides a tangible example that other motivations are possible (Baldwin et al. 1993, Gobster and Hull 2000). Many ecological restorationists are motivated to intervene in nature precisely because of their humility and ecocentrism. They restore nature not for personal or economic gain, and not even for ecosystem services or concerns about social equity. Instead, many restorationists are motivated by what they think nature wants. They are cautious of hubris and humble in the application of their techniques. They recognize that human domination of the biosphere has created a situation in which nature may need human care. It is time for us to admit that the outcomes of an active partnership hold greater promise than does the passivity of preservation.


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Baldwin, A. D., Jr., J. D. Luce, and C. Pletsch, editors. 1994. Beyond preservation: restoring and inventing landscapes. University of Minneapolis, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

Gobster, P., and Hull, R. B., editors. 2000. Restoring nature: perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. Island Press, Washington D.C., USA.

Rowe, S. Much more than ecological scale and "nature knowing best" hiding in environmental decisions. Conservation Ecology 7(1): 3. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/resp3/index.html.

Address of Correspondent:
R. Bruce Hull
College of Natural Resources
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia 24061 USA
Phone: (540) 231-7272
Fax: (540) 231-3698

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