etymology, (et-e-mol-oji), n. The study of historical linguistic change, especially as applied to individual words.
conservation, (kon-ser-va-shun), n. 1. The act of conserving; preservation. 2. Official supervision of rivers, forests, wildlife, etc. 3. A District under such supervision.
biology, (bi-ol-oji), n. The science of life or living matter in all its forms and phenomena; often especially with reference to origin, growth, reproduction, structure, etc.
I have been asked to explain the origin (i.e. etymology) of the term “conservation biology”.
The term “conservation biology” has a very interesting history in the USA that is fraught with hidden agendas, stolen credibility and its use as a means to grow government and increase bureaucratic power while disguised as both a harmless and beneficial means of “saving” renewable natural resources.
The mid to late 1800’s and early 1900’s were a chaotic period in American history: the West was settled, farms sprung up everywhere, Americans killed wildlife for personal food and to sell to others for food; buffalo herds dwindled and then were extirpated and large predators were eliminated or greatly reduced to make homesteads, farming and animal husbandry possible; and some wild animals like Passenger Pigeons and North American Parrots were recognized as having become extinct. Large swaths of forestlands were cut to build homes, railroads, mines and infrastructure like bridges and tunnels. Grazing on “open range” was intense as a result of government reluctance to transfer public lands in the West to private ownership after The Civil War thus leading to the historic abuse of “the commons” as seen in Europe for centuries.
Not all of the reckless abuse of renewable (forests, forage and fish/wildlife) natural resources was attributable to European settlers. Native people were generally nomadic and abandoned sites as they became polluted, relatively devoid of food for a host of reasons, or increasingly dangerous due to human factors and/or the presence/behavior of dangerous wild animals. Native people used fires to drive herd animals off cliffs and for other purposes: these fires had both positive and negative effects on wildlife, trees and habitats including human dwellings. Native people carried on lively trading for centuries in animal parts such as the bills of the now-extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker whose value outside its range up to and into present-day Canada was immense in terms of the economy of the day.
Mention of the impacts of natural phenomenon on North American species and the landscape are seldom noted when describing the American concern about the impact of European settlement on “rivers, forests and wildlife”. For centuries the impacts of glaciers and low temperatures (Ice Ages) made many species extinct from dinosaurs to mastodons that are still being dug up and in some instances eaten and exploited for ivory in Northern parts of our globe. Earthquakes such as the New Madrid Earthquakes (1811-1812) that rang church bells 1,000 miles away, rechanneled the Mississippi River and even caused it to run backwards for a period of time, caused great damage and desolation to “rivers, forests and wildlife”. Add into this mix periodic overgrazing by wild animal herds; predator population highs and lows due to everything from food availability, disease, weather, human purges and competition with other predators; plus learned behaviors of predators as some like saber-toothed tigers became extinct and wolves, cougars and grizzly bears came and went with the factors mentioned earlier in this paragraph and you have a picture of a dramatically changing North American environment which was affected by European (“developed?”, “advanced?”, “technological?”, “industrial?” take your pick) rearrangement of the landscape, governance and human activities.
The early 1900’s saw a great awakening of the national conscience about what was seen to be the extirpation of renewable national resources everywhere you looked. The speeches, writing and actions of the like of Teddy Roosevelt, his forester pal Gifford Pinchot, wildlife aesthete Aldo Leopold and semi-philosophers such as John Muir and John Burroughs all called for dramatic action by government to “save” Yosemite/Yellowstone/ Forests/Buffalo/Birds/”Wilderness”/etc.
America was growing rich and powerful at the time as railroads, steel mills, jobs and an immigrant work force combined to create a national vision that we could do whatever we set our mind to. The 19th century idea of Manifest Destiny (the idea in the middle 19th century, that it “was the destiny of the U.S. to expand its territory over the whole of North America and to extend and enhance its political, social, and economic influences”) came to be viewed in an international sense in that we (the US) were becoming so much more powerful and rich than any other nation in the world that we would “lead the way” into the future.
Federal lands being withheld in the late 19th and early 20th century by an increasingly powerful federal government (thanks to the perception that the Civil War not only destroyed “States ‘Rights’” but also indicated things would be better if the federal government remained in charge of things rather than giving State governments too much jurisdiction) remained in federal “ownership’. Some of these lands were classified as Refuges for Wildlife and others were added to the Yellowstone concept of being “National Parks”. Other such lands were declared “National Forests” and still others (an enormous acreage) were classified as grazing or “public lands” to be “managed” for public benefit. Suffice to say, thus were born the US Fish and Wildlife Service (formerly the Bureau of Biological Survey), the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
Gradually, each bureaucracy began writing regulations and “working” with a compliant (even then) Congress to buy private lands and expand current landholdings and declare new units everywhere. As in the last 50 years of the passage of the ESA, Antiquities Act, Wilderness Act, et al; Congressmen and Senators quickly saw the benefits to their re-election of a refuge/park/forest in every District and State (like the “chicken in every pot”). Bureaucracies called for “research” activities, “education” activities, operations funding, maintenance funding, etc. and each year – “more laws”, “more” employees and “more” funding.
Let us return to that late 19th and early 20 century period. As citizens in polluted cities and rural families developed an agreement with government that indeed human activities were causing too much devastation to “rivers, forests and wildlife”, an understandable accord arose between the governed and the governed that government action was needed. Now let us concentrate on the “wildlife” aspects (in the broadest sense of all wild animals and their supportive landscapes and plant habitats).
The Bureau of Biological Survey (the precursor of the US Fish and Wildlife) was the lead government wildlife agency as the US Forest Service was the lead “forest” agency and today’s BLM is generally recognized as the lead (off Forest Service and Wildlife Refuge lands) agency for grazing and mineral development.
The Bureau of Biological Survey offered three nostrums to reverse the concerns of the American public about the future of wildlife in America:
1. A robust federal Animal Damage Control Program nationwide to both reduce and eliminate the loss of valued wildlife like deer, elk and moose; and to reduce and eliminate damage by wildlife (mostly predators) to private property like livestock, dogs agricultural activities and to reduce and eliminate any dangers to human health and safety. 2. A Wildlife “Research” Program to determine the Life Histories of “wildlife” and thus to make “scientific” recommendations regarding their survival needs and ways to minimize any threats to their continued survival or methods to control them. 3. A “System” of Wildlife Refuges where practical wildlife management processes resulting from “scientific research” would be applied both to test their effectiveness and to provide exemplary models for management of State and Private lands where wildlife considerations might show benefits to the Nation.
Note that all three were to be based on “science” guiding “research”. This was the age of American inventions and “applied science”. Henry Ford, Cyrus McCormick, Thomas Edison, Tesla, Orville and Wilbur Wright, and Albert Einstein made “science” almost biblical as the last word in whatever field you were interested in. In the field of wildlife, the “science” of Biology was clearly the basis for the promise of government deliverance of wildlife from what ailed us at that time.
But, biology alone was a somewhat disconcerting idea. Would these government “scientists” sit around in laboratories looking into microscopes and puffing on pipes in some seminar in conference rooms? Would they publish papers in Latin and require listeners to either have advanced degrees or simply take “their word” about what was needed? No, the noun “biology” needed a modifier and adjective to set the public and politicians minds at ease.
The word “Conservation” fit the bill perfectly. This was long before the concept of “renewable natural resources” (wildlife, timber, forage) as opposed “non-renewable natural resources” (oil, coal, natural gas) was used so the notion that “conserving” these precious resources (while continuing to USE them) was the goal that was understandable and supported by citizen and politician alike. Conservation Biology was thought to have a “good ring to it”.
Now, before proceeding further with the term “Conservation Biology”, any discussion must consider a very important factor. At no time was there any public intention or statement that this “Conservation Biology” would be the basis for:
- introducing and protecting wolves; - introducing rattlesnakes into settled states like Massachusetts; - arresting persons for protecting their families and property from grizzly bears or cougars; - wrecking the economies and social structures of Counties on behalf of owls or woodpeckers; - federal/state “partnering” to introduce and protect free-roaming buffalo in the midst of settled rural communities and agricultural/livestock operations; - federal spending of Billions of dollars per year by the federal government to force state governments into a federal subcontractor status and to bribe Universities to become publishing houses for “science” that is little more than alchemy notes copied from medieval wizards; - etc., etc.
Had any of those early wildlife philosophers, bureaucrats or political leaders inferred that “Conservation Biology” would be used to:
- close public lands,
- condemn private property,
- eliminate hunting,
- eliminate fishing,
- eliminate trapping,
- justify using predators to shut down ranching,
- justify closing grazing lands,
- justify increasing lead ammunition and fishing tackle costs,
- forcing rural families to live with uncontrolled deadly and destructive predators,
- eliminate highly desirable wildlife like brown trout, pheasants, chukars, etc. while undesirable and destructive wildlife like pythons, boa constrictors and Asian carp are imported and allowed to escape into settled landscapes,
- justify tearing down irrigation/power dams, - finance buying private property and easing private property and expanding federal authorities until the entire nation is under federal control, - etc., etc.
Not only would anyone making such a claim have been thought daffy, if there was even the slightest chance that such unimaginable things would result – the very existence of these four agencies, their funding and their budgets would have been in great jeopardy if not eliminated all-together.
Make no mistake: “Conservation Biology” existed and grew NOT because it was thought necessary to impede or destroy American rights or the American Way of Life.
“Conservation Biology” existed and grew because the American People (i.e. We the People…”) wanted to make every reasonable and affordable effort to sustain wildlife in the midst of the settled American landscape and the American Way of Life so generously provided by our Constitutional society and our protected human activities as described in the Declaration of Independence as “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
Thus, once the bureaucratic wildlife ball got rolling during WWI, the federal government signed a Treaty with Britain to protect 212 bird species thereby seizing state jurisdiction over those birds. Subsequent Treaties expanded the number of federal birds. A federal law was passed to outlaw the interstate transportation of contraband wildlife. Refuges were bought, “rounded-out”, and proposed annually. Federal conniving (the correct word) with UN staffs and faux “Treaties” led to all manner of “necessary” land control and land set-aside maneuvers as well as all manner of import controls that have all but killed the sustainable international commerce in wildlife from big game hunting to commercial uses of wildlife parts.
States began to professionalize their own wildlife agencies made up at first of mostly game wardens and then with “managers” with titles like Upland Game “Biologist”, Big Game “Biologist”. Universities began teaching courses and then forming Departments and then even Colleges granting degrees up to and including PhD’s in “Wildlife Biology” and “Wildlife Management” and “Wildlife Resources”; all based on or derived from “Conservation Biology”.
Simultaneously, the US Fish and Wildlife Service:
- grew annually,
- hired “more” biologists, refuge managers and enforcers,
- lobbied and got an Excise Tax on fishing equipment, arms and ammunition to assist the states to “professionalize” under federal oversight (i.e. be more like their federal cousins),
- joined with radicals in the 1960’s to lobby and obtain the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Animal Welfare Act, Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Wilderness Act, etc.
The end result being a “Great Robbery” of State Jurisdictions and Authorities by federal bureaucracies based on fuzzy “science” claims of federal “experts” and romance “Biology” ground out by Universities kenneling sub Rosa federal subcontractors with initials after their names.
While “Conservation Biology” started all this, the term fell into disuse from the 1970’s forward. The reason “Conservation Biology” fell into disuse was because of the steady takeover of the US Fish and Wildlife Service by environmental/animal rights activists and interest groups. These radicals absolutely hated (the correct word) hunting, fishing, trapping, grazing, timber management, fur products, and all the trappings of European settlement and the American system of government. They advocated an all-powerful central government enacting Rural Clearances and abolishing every human activity and things like guns that they did not favor.
In the US Fish and Wildlife Service they transferred the timeless and beneficial animal damage control program to the Agriculture Department where they could roundly condemn it and advocate its elimination. They imposed ammunition restrictions for wildlife under federal jurisdiction. They shifted refuges from models of wildlife “management” to sealed enclaves where non-management led to worthless and overgrown disasters. They shifted enforcers from wildlife protectors to human regulators and overseers as happened in the BLM and US Forest Service. They began lying like National Park Service employees (“the elk are in the back country”, “don’t believe people that say that wolves kill and eliminate elk”, etc.) and State employees (“global warming has killed most of the elk and moose”, “don’t believe anyone that tells you that wolves killing moose calves has eliminated most of the moose”, and the whopper “wolves don’t attack and are not a danger to people”).
Many of the activist employees came in under the shadow of Equal Employment Opportunity. That is the federal program giving women and minorities preferences over white males. This was done by eliminating requirements and standards for hiring, transferring and promoting much like Apartheid in South Africa. Other activists began infiltrating the US Fish and Wildlife Service politically like the current Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and many lesser “appointments” not accurately publicized.
Beginning in the 1990’s these activists shared one sterling attribute. They did not hesitate to say they “hunt and fish”. Although in most cases this was a plain lie, it was used as a mask over their real agenda, the elimination of wildlife management for humans and the advent of strict human management by government justified where possible on claimed benefits for wildlife from the proclaimed “endangered’ maga-critter to the lowliest and unseen critter that provided a “necessary” niche in some contrived ecosystem and was in great need of yet another land purchase, regulation or arrest.
During this period (1990 – 2014) the term Conservation Biology was, to US Fish and Wildlife Service and its New Age cooperators and employees, much like the term “untermenschen” (A Nazi term for Jews and other inferior – to the Nazis - races) is in Jewish and Eastern European conservations; that is a despicable word from the past. However, as opposition to all the federal abuses of citizens in the name of wildlife grows and the “science” it is based on is seen to be bogus and as we approach a Presidential election wherein the biggest “citizen abuse by wildlife” political support Party (both Parties support all of this wildlife abuse of the citizenry, one only slightly less than the other) worries that they may not only lose “more” power but that anti-establishment candidates might actually get elected and reverse things: illusions and diversions are called for.
Reigniting the widespread use of the benign and fondly-remembered term “Conservation Biology” is one such illusion. It is like wolf puppies in the tender arms of a young lady employee in a government uniform. Who could be against this except for some pervert that tore the wings off flies as a youth and grew up into a misogynist? It is like federal attempts to “List” the Sage Grouse and then suddenly realizing that the Sage Grouse were doing better than anyone could expect (“but it’s the thought that counts”). Why “they” are once again using “Conservation Biology” as they (fill-in-the-blank). Who could be against that?
So as I write, “Conservation Biology” is everywhere. Like releasing thousands of criminals from prison or prattling on about how Planned Parenthood sale of fetal tissue rivals the Salk vaccine for Polio, don’t be misled by this restoration of an antiquated term like some quaint term in a Shakespeare Play. It is simply one more ploy to keep you playing the federal carnival game of “which shell is the pea under?” It is “their”, “their” rules and “your money”.
Like the once-greatest walleye lake in Minnesota, Mille Lacs, that Indians netted so much they crashed the walleye fishery and then began buying up the resorts and cabins on the shores at rock bottom prices with the millions Minnesotans pour into the Indian casinos; America is similarly being destroyed and bought up by the taxes we render to Washington and the debt we allow Washington to ring up. Americans, like Minnesotans have “met the enemy and he is us”.
Jim Beers is a retired US Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist, Special Agent, Refuge Manager, Wetlands Biologist, and Congressional Fellow. He was stationed in North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York City, and Washington DC. He also served as a US Navy Line Officer in the western Pacific and on Adak, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He has worked for the Utah Fish & Game, Minneapolis Police Department, and as a Security Supervisor in Washington, DC. He testified three times before Congress; twice regarding the theft by the US Fish & Wildlife Service of $45 to 60 Million from State fish and wildlife funds and once in opposition to expanding Federal Invasive Species authority. He resides in Eagan, Minnesota with his wife of many decades. Jim Beers is available to speak or for consulting.