The three paradigms of conservation

On April 11 ABC Radio National broadcast a segment called “The great native pet debate” by Ian Walker. 

The piece raised a number of interesting points about conservation and it’s changing shape and profile since the 1940s and 1950s.

To listen to the complete story visit Radio National’s Background Briefing site.

Below is an outline of the discussion by Ian, the University of Sydney’s Honorary Associate and retired vet, Paul Hopwood and researcher, lecturer and consultant on biodiversity conservation, Rosie Cooney.

According to Paul Hopwood, when it comes to conservation there have been three different paradigms that have shaped our thinking over the past hald century. 

The paradigms

1. Shoot and cut

 If it moved you shot it and if it didn’t, you cut it down. 

2. Preservationist

By the 1960s people became alarmed by the impact development was having on the environment. “We could no longer rely on the animals being somewhere over the horizon,” says Hopwood. At this time that it was decided the way to preserve species and environments was to keep people away from them. The extensive National Parks networks were established but with only 5% of the landmass available the preservationist ‘lock it up’ paradigm didn’t provide a solution for all habitats.

3. Use it or lose it

This paradigm rallies for the integrating of native plants and animals into production systems. If this happens, according to Hopwood, Australia can be assured, because of their intrinsic economic value, that they can be there in perpetuity. 

“No one is seriously afraid that the sheep is going to go extinct and likewise, if we can give our native mammals economic value, well then there’s an economic imperative to protect them and maintain their numbers,” says Hopwood.

But according to Ian Walker, this last paradigm opens up another can of worms. “Under the new use it or lose it paradigm, Australians should be eating more kangaroo meats, buying beauty products made of emu oil and just maybe owning quolls as pets rather than the ecologically disastrous domestic cat,” he says.

Rosie Cooney believes that, while sustainable use of wildlife is still controversial, people are beginning to understand that valuing something economically almost prevents it from disappearing. 

“I think it is catching on. I think the traditional conservation approach has seen the market as an enemy. And so the whole approach of conservation was the fences and fines approach…. You lock up nature behind a fence and you strictly regulate outside those borders so no-one can touch anything, sell anything or possess anything. This has certainly got its place and is certainly an essential component of any conservation strategy. But in all sorts of areas, conservationists are beginning to recognise that while the market is a terrible master, it’s a very powerful tool. So that if it’s set up and managed properly it can be very efficient and effective in delivering some of the things you want,” says Cooney.


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