Fall 2008

Conservation Biology and the Reconstruction of Nature


Jan E. Dizard (Section 01)


In the waning decades of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, biologists struggled with one another and with the public over how to regard-and whether to regard at all-our nation’s biotic patrimony. In the early twentieth century, the struggle was distilled into two choices: preservation or conservation. Conservation became the dominant expression of environmental policy. By the end of the twentieth century, however, it became clear that environmental policies were failing. Reflecting this, a number of prominent biologists and ecologists created a new subfield of biology, conservation biology, devoted to addressing what they see as a looming biodiversity crisis. A corollary of this emergent concern quickly emerged: we need to return key ecosystems to an approximation of what they were before humans intruded. In this colloquium, we will explore the interaction between biologists and the general public. In particular, we will critically examine the policies and projects that have recently been promoted by prominent conservation biologists. We will pay particular attention to proposals for large scale “rewilding” of North America (e.g., the proposal to return the Western Plains to a “Buffalo Commons”). Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Dizard.