conservation of natural resources

Introduction

conservation of natural resources, the wise use of the earth's resources by humanity. The term conservation came into use in the late 19th cent. and referred to the management, mainly for economic reasons, of such valuable natural resources as timber, fish, game, topsoil, pastureland, and minerals, and also to the preservation of forests (see forestry), wildlife (see wildlife refuge), parkland, wilderness, and watershed areas. In recent years the science of ecology has clarified the workings of the biosphere; i.e., the complex interrelationships among humans, other animals, plants, and the physical environment. At the same time burgeoning population and industry and the ensuing pollution have demonstrated how easily delicately balanced ecological relationships can be disrupted (see air pollution; water pollution; solid waste).

Conservation of natural resources is now usually embraced in the broader conception of conserving the earth itself by protecting its capacity for self-renewal. Particularly complex are the problems of nonrenewable resources such as oil and coal (see energy, sources of) and other minerals in great demand. Current thinking also favors the protection of entire ecological regions by the creation of "biosphere reserves." Examples of such conservation areas include the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and Adirondack State Park in the United States. The importance of reconciling human use and conservation beyond the boundaries of parks has become another important issue.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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