Conflicts in Conservation

redpathRating: ★★★★☆

Redpath SM., Gutierrez RJ., Wood KA., and Young JC. (eds.). 2015. Conflicts in Conservation. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978 1 107 60346 2.

Although many might see conservation as the “keeping” of specific plant and animal species, in reality it has always been about conflicts and contested spaces. It’s not about the Pandas per se but about the way in which people consider their landscapes (i.e. both Pandas and people) should be used and perceived.  For this reason it was going to need more than biology and conservation science to maintain biodiversity. What has taken the time is for the multi-disciplinary reality of conservation today to be recognised and its key tenets exposed and discussed. If we look more deeply into this topic then we see no shortage of texts arguing for conservation but fewer taking a more measured and theoretical approach in the way this text develops.

The basic idea of the text is quite straightforward – ecosystems and species are under increasing threat and, if we wish to keep them, we need to address the complexities of the situation. There is a need to examine the idea of conflict, to see how it is constructed and then how it might be ameliorated. This is no easy task; we live in what many see to be the dawn of the Anthropocene – at a time when we need to conserve species but seem unwilling or unable to do so.

We start this exploration with a brief section looking at the ideas behind conservation conflicts, starting with the idea that all conflicts are not equal. We can find, and perhaps should find, at typology (such as suggested here) to tease out the subtle differences between causes (the effect being to reduce biodiversity whichever one is chosen!). However, it’s not just about finding some neat divisions to place conflict in, it’s about understanding some of the philosophy behind it. It’s about values and morals and finding common agreements to contested problems. These ideas are not easy and are certainly not part of traditional conservation thinking. The point, well made, is that we need to look far more closely at the mechanisms within which conservation tries to operate.

From the idea of a more nuanced approach to thinking about conservation we move into a wide range of perspectives under which conservation can be managed (or not, depending on the conflicts). Although the 11 cases described in this section each focus on one element, there is the sense that this diversity can be considered as three elements. There’s the historical/political side which considers the ways in which humans interact with the environment and each other. The aim is to show how conservation comes down to a set of human factors. Then there’s the legal/economic case – the notion that conservation has a value and that that value can be measured (and presumably paid for). It’s the common way forward today but, since it is not working on any recognisable global scale, maybe not the sole focus.The third side has to do directly with people and their perspectives and needs, a sociological/anthropological focus where we look not just at motives but at ethics and morals – that there should be a “right” way to proceed. If we look at it this way, conservation is not so much a science of maintaining life but a far more complex system involving people’s needs and wants as well as their ability to do something about it.

The final section looks at ways by which we can solve conservation conflicts. A model is set up but it only gets us so far. There are questions here that mean we can’t look at all conflicts in the same way. Scale is an obvious factor – small issues might be solved fairly easily whist larger projects require more just because of the stakeholder numbers irrespective of the ecology involved. Then there’s a series of responses that differ in their “intensity” in finding a solution. The argument seems to be that you pick the minimum effort to produce the desired response. Given that conservation issues are often taken as a proxy for deeper social issues, this makes sense. Mediation, consensus-building and conflict resolution are going to be lower-order responses but might just work where the subject is a complex social/science issue. Failing that, legislation and punishment is the final option but, where an issue transcends either so many factors or areas of common ground e.g. oceans, it might just be the only way forward.

What we see here is not so much a text covering a topic in detail but a series of snapshots examining a wide range of issues but with only the key details. As such, it offers the ideal approach to this complex issue. It is clear that solutions are unique to the area/ecology/people involved and so there is no universal play-book from which we can draw. What we can see here are vignettes of successful cases and the references to follow them up. There’s the potential to learn about the variety of situations we face and to see what might well be the solution that solves it. This is a relatively new area in applied conservation science and this text provides an excellent overview to it.

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