When Conservation Means Control

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Paul Robbins begins his book Political Ecology defining it as a place where knowledge of diverse fields and modes of thought intersect. It’s a common language to study the many ways humanity relates to the world ecosystem, taking more into account than the local effects humans have on the environment. Robbins introduces five theses of Political Ecology; the first two deal with resource extraction and the resulting conservation attempts.

Pacific salmon fisheries in Oregon and California are an example of this (the author explains in chapter 9). Local fisherman had a reduced catch because of a federal irrigation program upstream on the Klamath River. Rather than regulate and reduce agricultural water use more inland (no easy political task), the states now develop and manage the fishery themselves to keep out foreign competition. Since they essentially decide who gets to harvest and where, this ‘conservation’ is little more than the state controlling access to a resource. (Robbins, pg 182)

The political thesis Robbins calls ‘conservation and control’ is a human element to earth’s ecosystem that works alongside the natural elements (e.g. a volcanic eruption). Pacific salmon populations depend upon a complex aquatic system of which humans are only one element. The regulation of fishing based purely on what fishermen catch fails to recognize huge inputs to that system including the water itself! Regulating the agricultural and logging industries to preserve habitat may be more critical than ‘managing’ the resource itself. Political ecology can help us navigate these systems and offers common ground for all fields approaching the same problem.


Robbins, P. (2011). Political ecology : a critical introduction. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Blake, T. A. (n.d.). Klamath river California [Photograph]. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service In Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 14, 2018, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Klamath_river_California.jpg. (Originally photographed 2013, February 28)

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