When it comes to our nations natural resources many career environmentalists are faced with similar questions to very different situations. One question that is often presented to managers, biologists, and field technicians is “conservation or preservation?”
These two terms often become intertwined when discussing environmental issues, but they mean very different things. The decision of whether to preserve or conserve can result in significantly different outcomes. The act of preserving something, such as a tract of land or specific species, is to set it aside under certain protections and let it be. Generally this means the land or species would remain untouched and lack any management goals that require active work. Conservation on the other hand means to actively work to benefit whatever it is that you are conserving. Conservation can take many different forms but generally requires work in the field, specific management goals, equipment, and planning to ensure that the actions being taken are all moving together to benefit a species, pieces of land, or potentially an ecosystem as a whole.
This summer I have been a part of possibly the largest effort to eradicate the American Bullfrog from an area that it is not native too. This all being part of a plan to conserve the Oregon Spotted Frog (OSF), a threatened species that has a population stronghold at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge. My work in the field is a direct result of land managers making the decision that the OSF needs active work to help its recovery efforts. The Oregon spotted frog, a species endemic to the Pacific Northwest, has significantly declined in recent years. This decline can be attributed to a variety of factors including habitat loss, climate change, and the presence of invasive species that predate on and out-compete the OSF in its native ecosystem. These decisions are not easy and require a variety of moving parts coming together to form a project and acquire funding. Often the decision to conserve a species, such as the OSF, instead of preserve the species comes down to the human impacts that are already present in the ecosystem. If you simply preserved the land that they live on there would still be a significant risk to the population due to human impacts.
For me, conservation this summer has been unlike anything I have ever done. It has required setting countless fyke nets, wading through chest deep waters well into the night to hand capture bullfrogs, saving OSF tadpoles from shallow pools certain to dry up, and moving thousands of gallons of water to areas most important to the frog. And I would do it all again.
The work we are doing on the refuge will allow future generations to enjoy the regions biodiversity in its most natural state. Hopefully years down the line the Oregon Spotted Frog will be thriving in a healthy ecosystem that reflects the conservation efforts we are undertaking. I am thankful to have worked on a project that I feel has a positive impact on our world and for MAI being one small yet important piece to a large puzzle.