The New Conservation Debate: Ethical foundations, strategic trade-offs, and policy opportunities

Ben Minteer, Thaddeus Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


The "parks vs. people" debate - i.e., the dispute over whether conservation projects and policies should prioritize biodiversity and landscape protection or poverty alleviation and human livelihood improvement - should be quite familiar to most conservation scientists and policy scholars today. Yet, it is clearly a more expansive debate than the argument over whether a particular conservation project should emphasize biodiversity protection or development: it is also a wider disagreement about the proper value and ethical foundations of biological conservation in the age of sustainability, as well as the wisdom and consequences of making complex trade-offs among rivalrous conservation goals in practice. This essay introduces a special section of Biological Conservation focused on this larger dispute, what we are calling the "New Conservation Debate" to distinguish it from the historical debate in the US between "wise use" conservationists and preservationists at the turn of the 20th century. Articles in this special section explore the normative and ethical dimensions of the debate, as well as more pragmatic considerations relating to trade-off analysis and decision-making in real-world conservation plans and projects that impact both biodiversity and human well-being. Collectively, the papers in this section clarify many of the ethical and strategic divisions in the New Conservation Debate, while also revealing opportunities for reconciliation and principled compromise among advocates of strong nature protection and human welfare in the conservation community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-947
Number of pages3
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011


  • Conservation philosophy
  • Conservation policy
  • Park-people debate
  • Trade-off analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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