Dave Foreman spills his guts on the difference between real conservationists and the rest of us, who are interested in saving the environment for utilitarian reasons here, urging a return to conservation’s roots in the preservation of wildness for its own sake, and slamming utilitarian environmental approaches to conservation. I actually thought the movement had gotten past this debate; apparently I was wrong.

Key phrase:

… [N]ature conservationists who work to protect wilderness areas and wild species should be called conservationists, and … resource conservationists, who wish to domesticate and manage lands and species for the benefit and use of humans, should be called resourcists.

When environmentalists turn their attention from the so-called “built environment” to nature, they can take either a conservationist or a resourcist pathway. I’ve named environmentalists who have a utilitarian resourcist view “enviro-resourcists.”

And I’ve ruffled some feathers with this view.

I’ve ruffled even more feathers lately by warning that enviro-resourcists have been slowing gaining control of conservation groups, thereby undercutting and weakening our effectiveness, and that nature lovers need to take back the conservation family.

Now, I attend a graduate school founded by Gifford Pinchot, utilitarian extraordinaire, and about 70 percent of the students at my school are studying to become environmental managers — exactly the type of resourcist Foreman rails against, and the type of utilitarian manager who he claims is slowly taking over the major environmental organizations. (And he’s right about that.)

While parts of Foreman’s argument appeal to me, because flower-filled alpine meadows inspire my soul, I nonetheless think that his argument about the intrinsic value of nature can be a dangerous one, particularly when exported to the developing world, which is where a lot of conservation is taking place.

Yet Foreman persists, stating that the “resourcist” turn in conservation is a major problem:

[A] growing number of conservation group leaders do not themselves believe in nature for its own sake. David Johns writes in an email message that “some conservationists seem to be not just using anthropocentric arguments to advance rewilding goals, but are, in fact, backing off of rewilding goals in favor of sustainable development nonsense.”

Now, I thought the resourcist turn was actually a positive move on environmentalism’s part, one urged by conservation workers such as Mac Chapin and well-covered by Grist and others.

One could argue that the reason we have this “sustainable development nonsense” is that when Westerners impose their “intrinsic” values on impoverished indigenous communities, we often end up impoverishing them more, and ignoring the factors that led to deforestation and resource overuse in the first place. Resource extraction is going to go on because humans need resources. There are better and worse ways to extract these resources, and at least resourcists are trying to find the better way.

Yet at the same time, Foreman’s argument appeals, because so many American enviros came to the movement from a love of the wild, and do believe that there is an intrinsic value in, say, a field of glacier lilies. But is anyone other than Foreman arguing that conservationists/environmentalists return to the intrinsic love of the wild when making policy? Are his rants just a shard of remaining Thoreauvian romanticism/Western colonialism, or do a lot of people still think this way? Thoughts?