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Understanding Our Motivations for Protecting Urban Biodiversity

September 10, 2010

A box turtle residing in a nearby park.

I’m having some of my students this semester read an essay that came out in the journal Conservation Biology (see citation below) in 2008, and thought that it would be worth talking about here, too. The authors make the point that we need to articulate goals for urban biodiversity conservation, if we are to measure our conservation progress, and that these goals are dependent on our motivations to protect biodiversity in the first place. Not only that, but by articulating these motivations, we can make our case to a wider segment of the population, as there’s a bit of something for everyone in their list:

  • Preserving local biodiversity
  • Creating stepping stones to nonurban habitat
  • Understanding and facilitating responses to environmental change
  • Conducting environmental education
  • Providing ecosystem services
  • Fulfilling ethical responsibilities
  • Improving human well-being

Notice that these range from the biocentric (focusing on nature) to the anthropocentric (focusing on humans), and a few in between, as well. Preserving biodiversity for its own sake is of course biocentric, as is creating “stepping stones” or wildlife corridors for populations. On the other hand, improving human well-being is clearly anthropocentric in nature — study after study have shown that biodiversity and nature are good for us (for example, one study demonstrated that surgery patients who have a view of trees from their hospital room had shorter recovery times than patients who did not). Improving ecosystem services falls somewhere in between the two extremes, as a healthy ecosystem benefits both humans and non-human animals (for example, by providing clean water).

Some of these motivations will speak to certain people more than others, and I agree that conservation professionals need to be comfortable discussing conservation in all of these contexts. What are the motivations that appeal the most to you?

Dearborn, Donald C. and Salit Kark. 2008. Motivations for conserving urban biodiversity. Conservation Biology 24(2): 432-440.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2010 10:08 pm

    Totally agree about the importance of goals, both as a means of providing direction as well as a method of tracking progress. Where some people get it wrong is to treat the goals as a shotgun approach: “we should do this (enhance biodiversity within our city) b/c of these 45 reasons!” which defeats the purpose of a goal (setting a target or priority).

  2. September 11, 2010 1:13 pm

    I agree! Having metrics (and going back and evaluating them on a regular basis) to determine progress towards specific goals is important, and we probably do too little of that at times in this field, especially when so much is driven by grassroots organizations, or NGOs with few resources (the big conservation projects often do a better job…but even there there can be room for improvement!).

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