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The term nature conservancy reveals the particular way that society relates to “nature,” or what is thought of as the physical and natural environment that surrounds and hosts human activities and life on earth. The relationship between early societies and the natural environment was good, as societies made use of natural resources without causing large-scale depletion. As a whole, indigenous societies such as the Mayas in Peru didn’t provoke great environmental conflicts; instead, many ancient societies developed sustainable ways of living.
However, during the early 18th and 19th centuries the relationship between humanity and nature became strained with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Nature was often seen as an endless source of raw materials to feed the increasing needs of industrial countries. At the same time the environment served as a container for industrial waste. In this way, industries grew based on natural resource exploitation at very large scales, which gradually depleted the resources.
Early conservation initiatives were led by naturalists in the United States who were worried about extensive land-clearing and the rapid loss of wildlife. As conservation ideas gradually gained support, results appeared. In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was established in order to protect an area of incredible natural beauty. Later on the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 authorized what would become known as National Forests, and the Lacey Act of 1900 established the first wildlife protection measures by restricting commercial hunting and the trade of illegally killed animals.
Throughout the 20th century many other initiatives appeared in the United States. The conservation movement had a high point in the 1960s as books such as Silent Spring by Rachel Carson raised public concern about the health and environmental hazards of pesticides and other toxic chemicals used by industry.
In 1972 the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme was formed to encourage international cooperation in conservation and development strategies. Collaboration on environmental conservation issues included the 1987 Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer; the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt.
More recently, the idea of conservation has been closely connected to that of sustainable development. Conservation does not simply mean preservation anymore-it means the fostering of economic activities while taking into account and respecting the dynamics of natural ecosystems. That is the basic idea of sustainable development: a triangle between economics, society, and ecology.
Today there are hundreds of agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and other groups whose goals involve the conservation of nature. The biggest and most renowned ones are: the World Conservation Union or International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Wildlife Fund (WFF), Greenpeace, Conservation International, and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Some of these organizations have significant budgets. For instance, TNC had a 2005 budget of more than $600 million.
- Noel Grove, Earth‘s Last Great Places: Exploring the Nature Conservancy Worldwide (National Geographic, 2003);
- Noel Grove and Stephen J. Krasemann, Preserving Eden: The Nature Conservancy (H.N. Abrams, 1992);
- Kim Heacox, An American Idea: The Making of the National Parks (Hi Marketing, 2001).