Elegant conservation: reimagining protected area stewardship in the 21st century

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Resilience Alliance, Inc.


We present an approach to the conservation of protected areas that aligns cultural truths with scientific truths to increase community capacity for conservation. This alignment, which we call elegant conservation, asks protected area managers to reimagine how conservation can be inclusive of cultures and subcultures whose members value protected areas, but not in the same way. Reimagining how protected area managers approach conservation requires them to observe closely and holistically, with fresh eyes, human consciousness and behavior as well as relationships between people and between people and nature. Our approach connects the humanities, Western sciences, and other forms of knowledge, including Indigenous knowledge, in a manner that more sustainably builds social support for conservation. We first offer a heuristic of seven conditions that protected area managers can analyze when sizing up conservation issues and the people involved. We then propose a heuristic of five human tendencies—elements of human consciousness—that can help protected area managers and their partners organize constructive responses to any conservation issue. Our model of elegant conservation offers a pragmatic, holistic, inclusive alternative to top-down, reductive management approaches and is an outgrowth of modern American intellectual history, especially since the end of the Cold War, ca. 1989–1990. Elegant conservation presents an opportunity to help people find common ground and move protected area management beyond its origins in settler colonialism at a time of national and planetary crisis.



conservation, cultures, elegant conservation, heuristics, holism, humanities, pragmatism, resilience, science, settler colonialism


Bobowski, B., & Fiege, M. (2023). Elegant conservation: reimagining protected area stewardship in the 21st century. Ecology and Society, 28(1), 25.
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