Reflections on a Half-Century of Experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum


Editor, Restoration & Management Notes, The University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, Madison, Wisconsin

So far, in this volume and in thinking and discussions about the conservation of biological diversity generally, the emphasis has been on preservation of what we already have. This makes sense. Preservation obviously has a critical role to play in the conservation of diversity. At the same time, however, it is clear that by itself preservation is not an adequate strategy for conserving diversity. At best, preservation can only hold on to what already exists. In a world of change, we need more than that. Ultimately, we need a way not only of saving what we have but also of putting the pieces back together when something has been altered, damaged, or even destroyed.

Consider, for example, that

  • vast areas of both land and water have already been profoundly altered by human activities ranging from agriculture to mining and construction and to various forms of pollution;

  • barring a catastrophe on the scale of nuclear war, human-caused alterations of natural and wilderness areas will continue indefinitely;

  • certain kinds of change—notably changes in climate—are beyond human control, and they in turn will inevitably change even those areas we have succeeded in preserving;

  • existing wilderness preserves are often inadequate in size or are suboptimal in shape or design; in many cases, their value as reservoirs of biodiversity could be dramatically increased by relatively modest increases in size, which could be achieved by active reconstruction of communities around their borders;

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