Conservation vs. Preservation

Part 2 of 2 - Guest Post by Espy Thomson, Heather Campbell Chaney Environmental Fellow

I don’t want to be “that person,” but I think word choice does matter. When I say something about Palmer Land Trust and the work we do, I want to be representing us with the correct vocabulary. So, the question of the day is: what are the definitions for conservation and preservation and what are the correct situations in which to use each word? 

First, before I jump into some history of the two words, please take a moment to try to define them yourselves.

Which of the following words do you associate more with Conservation or with Preservation?


A Historic Home        Yellowstone National Park            John Muir     Economics

National Forests    Pristine          Man-made    Gifford Pinochet       Sustainable Usage

A Little History

Around the 1900s, John Muir and Gifford Pinochet began developing their respective ideas on preservation and conservation. John Muir advocated for preservation and thought that there should be no industrial profits made from federal lands. He hoped the lands would remain largely untouched and pristine. Through his advocacy, the National Park Servicewas formed

Gifford Pinochet believed that federally owned lands should be used responsibly for recreation, logging, mining, and scientific research. Supported by President Roosevelt, he created the U.S. Forest Service, which manages and conserves federal land.




Preservation is used more in the context of human-made objects, such as buildings or historical objects. But from an environmental standpoint, preservationists aim to eliminate the impacts of human presence on landscapes in order to keep the wilderness “pristine.”


Conservation involves viewing nature and lands in terms of resources. It aims to utilize and manage those resources with an intent to be as sustainable as possible. 

These definitions encompass very different ways of looking at nature. Is it something to be put on a pedestal and left untouched? Or is it something to be used and managed? Are we preserving or conserving for ourselves or for ecosystems or specific animals? Are we a part of nature, or separate from it? Again, I always have more questions than answers, but I wonder what type of wilderness you would like to have at your backdoor and how you would like to use it?


About the Heather Campbell Chaney Environmental Fellowship

This fellowship was started by Charlie Campbell upon the passing of his daughter, Heather, in 2001. It provides opportunities for two students each summer to honor Heather’s environmental legacy and work in either environmental education at Catamount Institute or in land conservation at Palmer Land Trust. The fellowship not only benefits the students, but also the nonprofits who gain engaged and passionate workers for ten of the busiest work weeks of the year.