Did indigenous conservation ethics exist?
Abstract - Despite the common assertion that some indigenous peoples were conservationists, a number of authors have claimed that persuasive evidence for this is lacking. They have, apparently, overlooked such evidence. It is well documented, for example, that centuries ago Pacific Islanders invented and employed all the basic marine conservation measures that Europeans began to use only in the early 1900s. For islanders to have devised and employed deliberate conservation measures, they first had to learn that their natural resources were limited. They could only have done so by depleting them. Evidence that a culture overharvested or otherwise damaged its natural resources at some period in its history is no proof that it was, for all times, non-conservationist. Some Pacific Island cultures learned that their marine resources were limited and introduced marine conservation measures accordingly. Others never learned this lesson because their marine resources always exceeded harvesting pressure. I suggest that a worldwide survey of relevant literature would show that societies that developed con-scious conservation practices were usually small and relied on natural resources that were circum-scribed and thus easily depleted. Today, in an era of shrinking natural resource frontiers, establishing whether a conservation ethic exists in an indigenous culture is a vital first step in determining how to help its people live within their natural resource limits.
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