An Inclusive History of Conservation GIS: Introduction

12-11-2020 08:50 AM

An Inclusive History of Conservation GIS: Introduction

(part of the "Inclusive History of Conservation GIS  project)

I define Conservation as the struggle for human survival on earth.  If you are not in that fight,  you are either busy dying out as a dominant species, or you are hoping to get to Mars and live in a plastic bubble.

Back on my planet, Conservation is the activity of protecting earth's fundamental life processes, whose health is critical for humanity's future survival.  Those processes evolved in and depend upon intact lands & seas, and a huge  variety of other resident species who carry out ecological functions at microscopic to global scales.  Conservation is an activity, but it is inextricably bound to and empowered by the social, earth & life sciences.



Conservation is therefore a science of understanding, with the work of protecting, natural landscapes and their species from harm or extinction. Conservation includes the activities of planning, managing and restoring damaged landscapes and rare species to improve their health & survival.   Conservation equally includes the human presence upon the landscape, human rights, environmental justice, diversity & inclusion, and societal behavior to ensure that activities and policies are equitable, biologically sound and sustainable over time.

We became human beings through interaction with those same landscapes, and those same other species.   Our consciousness, our knowledge and our social structures first evolved from surviving in those natural environments, and discovering that survival depended upon joining together & helping one another.   Human values are already well populated with respect, affection and reverence for other humans, ancestors, parents, children, teachers  and leaders.   We might consider a parallel aspect of Conservation to be the normal outcome of the reverence and respect that humans may feel when surrounded by intact landscapes, or in companionship with dogs & other animals.   By this argument, the origins of a Conservation ethic and the passion to protect are as old as any other defining aspect of humanity.  

Conservation as a sense of reverence, and a connection to earth, is therefore innate in all humans regardless of race, religion, nation, gender, culture or identity.   It happens with every touch upon the plants in my garden, with every smell of oncoming rain or wet fur, with every sound of cattle lowing or coyotes barking. 

Equally present in human history is the pattern of conflict, as groups grew larger and sought to possess other landscapes by war, and other peoples by slavery.  Empires were formed as groups became ever more powerful.  Much of traditional western history was written by the privileged beneficiaries of those empires, and Conservation history is no exception.  In the same way, Conservation practice & policy is often rooted in patterns of empire and colonialism, tainting it with racial inequities both overt and subvert.   We live in a time when global biological crises and environmental disasters are spreading at the same time as dominant governments continue to prey upon bigotry to divide and weaken civil society.  Narratives about ecology & conservation need to address this tainted history to help end  the division and alienation, no matter how unintentional,  and work to begin rebuilding the unity, trust and common vision that will be needed to address these global crises.

I write this with hope, because I've been lucky enough to work in the GIS industry, which I sincerely believe to be the most integrative and powerful of all technologies  for resolving conflicts and building common, actionable visions about earth's future.   There are many technical reasons why this is so.   There are also social and historical reasons which I hope to address in this series.


for further reading:

Intersectional environmentalism: an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected.

"Imagining Nature and Erasing Class and Race: Carleton Watkins, John Muir, and the Construction of Wi...".  by Kevin Michael DeLuca and Anne Teresa Demo    Environmental History (2001) 6:541-560

"Shades of Darkness: Race and Environmental History". by Carolyn Merchant. Environmental History (2003) 8:380-394 

"The Green Movement Is Talking About Racism? It's About Time" by Brentin Mock

"The Environmental Movement Needs to Reckon with Its Racist History"  by Julian Brave NoiseCat

"The Problem of 'Colonial Science' by Asha De Vos

 (My deepest gratitude to my father Charles Convis Sr for first teaching me how conservation and social justice were deeply linked, and to my Mother Mary Anne (Crawley) Convis for constantly speaking out and teaching about the role of women in my nation's history, . Marsha Small (Tsistsistah (Northern Cheyenne)) constantly helps me correct & avoid the many words and expressions that arise from colonialist perspectives,  and  Jhon Goes in Center (Oglala Lakota) whose 2000 essay established  the framework that helped me understand the importance of Native People's perspective in any discussion of Geography & GIS



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