What is Conservation?

The word “conservation” is thrown around a lot in environmental education and environmental science. For the sake of common language, let’s look at the Oxford Dictionary definition:

1. The act of conserving something, in particular

2.Preservation, protection, or restoration of natural environment, natural ecosystems, vegetation, and wildlife

3. Preservation, repair, and prevention of deterioration of archaeological, historical, and cultural sites and artifacts.

4. Prevention of excessive or wasteful use of a resource

(There’s a fifth one pertaining to physics, but someone else will have to write a blog about that topic.)

These definitions are pretty thorough, spanning the natural environment to archaeological sites. When it comes to natural conservation, there are organizations that have celebrity status, those like The Nature Conservancy1, World Wildlife Fund2, and Sierra Club3. These groups have been around for years and focus on protecting wildlife, and habitat.

But what about the organizations that aren’t necessarily immediately connected to the idea of conservation? There are newer organizations such as Outdoor Afro4 and Latino Outdoors5. These groups have a primary focus of connecting people from specific minority backgrounds to outdoor recreation.

Based on the names of these organizations, Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors, someone unfamiliar with the groups and their founders may not realize that conservation is a large part each initiative. These two groups strive not only for the conservation of culture and heritage of people of color in the outdoors, but also preservation of natural resources. Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro and Jose Gonzalez of Latino Outdoors are making sure that people in historically marginalized communities are able to experience nature in positive and productive ways.

Ok, so they’re getting people outside hiking and biking and snowshoeing—so what? How does that translate to conservation? People are less likely to work towards protecting, or saving something they don’t know or care about, especially without some kind of motivation or reward. By taking people outside, connecting them with other community members and promoting positive experiences in natural environments, Mapp and Gonzalez help foster a knowledge and love of the outdoors, which can then be translated into actions that preserve the outdoors.

Another celebrated aspect of Latino Outdoors is recognizing that Latin@s6 have been part of conservation culture for generations. Latin@s are people who have worked the land and have hundreds of years of understanding ecology and utilizing resources without overuse. Giving validity and narrative to these histories is also part of conservation; conserving rich cultural heritage as well as the outdoor spaces used to create a sense of community (other orgs do this, too, Latino Outdoors is just a great example. Check out the eePro group on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion or do some research on your own to learn more!).

Outward Bound7 is another organization whose name and primary goals don’t scream conservation to all.  Outward Bound strives to “change lives through challenge and discovery.” Outward Bound courses often take place in wilderness areas, teaching participants leadership skills through group expeditions. While on these expeditions, students are expected to follow Leave No Trace8 principles and other impact-minimalizing behaviors, which is no doubt related to conservation. However, are mastering leadership skills a conservation behavior?  Somewould argue it is; that teaching people to listen to others, engage in meaningful conversations and to give and receive feedback are key components to making change happen, within conservation efforts or any other initiative. Leadership skills alone will not save acres of habitat, but preservation won’t happen without leaders to pave the way (insert joke about paving over natural resources).

The lines between definitions are often difficult to determine, especially when one umbrella term is used by professionals across different fields. While it may seem obvious to some that these groups fall right in line with conservation work, to others it might feel like a bit of a stretch. How wide is the scope of conservation behavior—does taking kids and affinity groups outside count? If so, what other behaviors count that aren’t immediately obvious? If not, what about these behaviors is expressly not conservation?

This blog doesn’t serve to provide a definitive answer, but instead ask questions. Please feel free to answer any of the questions posed here, or ask your own questions, in the comments below, or write your own blog about conservation behaviors.


  1. The Nature Conservancy:
  2. World Wildlife Fund:
  3. Sierra Club: /
  4. Outdoor Afro: /
  5. Latino Outdoors: /
  6. Info on "Latin@s": /
  7. Outward Bound: /
  8. Leave No Trace: /
  9. Article on leadership skills as conservation: