To understand Birds Korea's work and its aims more fully it is perhaps essential to define the meaning of the word conservation, for conservation defines our work and underlies our philosophy.
Although often sharing goals and considered by some as synonymous, for Birds Korea conservation does not mean quite the same as either “preservation” or “environmentalism”. While preservation essentially means, “keeping a place as it is”, and environmentalism can be defined as the “movement working for the environment” (of which 'preservation' and 'conservation' are but two of many approaches), conservation focuses foremost on understanding ecosystems and on the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources.
Conservation works through implementing effective management strategies and plans, to ensure the wisest use of that resource: conservation therefore often emphasizes “wise use” over “no use”.
For Birds Korea, wise use can be understood as “living off the interest created by the natural resource base”.
This is of course very different from unsustainable use, which entails eroding or degrading the natural resource base itself. The natural resource base (the total sum of living and non-living things, and the systems, products and cultures created by their combination or interaction) includes water, forests, the atmosphere, sunlight, and fossil fuels in their original, unrefined state. Perhaps for the religious, the resource base can more simply be understood as “all that God created”, for the spiritual as “all that is connected by life and sense of that life”, and for others, as “all that is natural in origin and which is necessary to support physical life”.
Much of contemporary industrial and agricultural development erodes and degrades the resource base, our natural life support system. Examples include:
- 'reclaiming' wetlands (converting rich estuaries, sea shallows and flood-plains to comparatively poor farm land or 'cheap' industrial land), rather than learning to live in and off such wetlands;
- cutting forests faster than they can grow back, to the detriment of the species supported by them, and the natural functions forests perform;
- extracting water for use more quickly than it can be replenished naturally;
- 'harvesting' species with low populations, be they animal or plant;
- and even 'developing' genetically altered crops that will lead to declines in other naturally-occurring species.
Unsustainable resource use is in summary the consumption or degradation of more than the earth can produce (and then again absorb or 'recycle'), within a given period of time.
Although unsustainable use can produce short-term profits and benefits for some, over the longer-term it needs to be understood by the effects that it causes to the majority: species' extinctions; desertification; degradation of soil, water and air; pollution; human poverty; famine; the spread of some diseases; and even war.
The conservation work of Birds Korea challenges this unsustainable, unwise resource use. As unsustainable and sustainable resource use have many forms, conservation needs to be pragmatic, taking a case-by-case approach based in science and in our own moral responsibility to other species, to ecosystems, and to future generations.
Its work needs to be based on best knowledge and on highest values.
In some cases, therefore, wise use will mean preventing use of a particular site or resource (maintaining wilderness, or populations of threatened species, allowing them to fully regenerate); in another case it might mean limiting or restricting use (zoning an area, so some of the area can be used for agriculture, some for tourism, some for nature preservation); in yet other cases it will mean simply altering use-patterns, to make use more efficient, and less wasteful.
For Birds Korea, sustainable and equitable use of a species or key site will very often mean use for education or recreation (as 're-creation', i.e. in rediscovering deeper values and deeper connections between self and the environment), rather than use by direct consumption or exploitation.
For Birds Korea, therefore, birdwatching is to be promoted over bird-hunting; whale watching over whaling; maintenance of natural wetlands over their conversion to agricultural or industrial land.
This does not mean Birds Korea is anti-development: we are anti-bad development.
We understand that conservation demands a wide range of responses, and believe that it offers a more realistic approach to solving problems than preservation alone, especially in a densely-populated region.
Conservation is based on respect for the needs of other people (and other species), and the recognition of long-term shared goals: maintenance of the conditions for life.
Conservation is therefore an approach to life and living with a mind to now and the future.
In the same way that conservation takes a long-term view, it also looks beyond single issues or single sites to the well-being of entire systems. For example, a single site might be in itself well-conserved, but what if species migrating to it, or the rivers flowing into it, are not? Over time, the species will decline and the rivers flowing into the site will become degraded. The site itself will lose its value and perhaps even its purpose. For these reasons it becomes highly ineffective for conservation work to limit itself to simple protests against a single issue.
Conservationists need instead to
- offer insight over anger;
- education over opposition;
- alternative plans and policies over protest speeches and demonstrations.
Conservationists, including those of us in Birds Korea, need to help to identify and promote to stakeholders (e.g. citizens, land-owners, developers and decision-makers) the very many ways in which people (and other species), now and into the future, can live and benefit through conservation, rather than be excluded and pauperized by unsustainable development.
This clear understanding of the meaning of conservation, this wise use doctrine, is what shapes our work. Birds Korea is not a protest organisation dedicated to opposing all development. It is an organization that uses science and strategy, uses consensus and a “common sense”, to guide the choices that are made.
Birds Korea works on building relationships at the local, national and international level. It works to make people aware of the best choices available to them; it backs its claims and opinions with science and a sense of responsibility to our own and other species; to now and to the future.
Although focused clearly on birds, we also naturally support the work of those promoting animal rights, vegetarianism, organic farming, initiatives to reduce energy and resource consumption, and other well thought-out alternatives to present models of industrial and agricultural development.