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• Conservation, sustainable use and protection of natural resources
including plants, animals, mineral deposits, soils, clean water, clean
air, and fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas.
Natural resources are grouped into two categories, renewable and
nonrenewable. A renewable resource is one that may be replaced
over time by natural processes, such as fish populations or natural
vegetation, or is inexhaustible, such as solar energy. The goal of
renewable resource conservation is to ensure that such resources
are not consumed faster than they are replaced. Nonrenewable
resources are those in limited supply that cannot be replaced or can
be replaced only over extremely long periods of time. Nonrenewable
resources include fossil fuels and mineral deposits, such as iron ore
and gold ore. Conservation activities for nonrenewable resources
focus on maintaining an adequate supply of these resources well
into the future.
• Natural resources are conserved for their
biological, economic, and recreational values, as
well as their natural beauty and importance to
local cultures. For example, tropical rain forests
are protected for their important role in both
global ecology and the economic livelihood of
the local culture; a coral reef may be protected
for its recreational value for scuba divers; and a
scenic river may be protected for its natural
• Conservation conflicts arise when natural-resource shortages
develop in the face of steadily increasing demands from a growing
human population. Controversy frequently surrounds how a
resource should be used, or allocated, and for whom. For example,
a river may supply water for agricultural irrigation, habitat for fish,
and water-generated electricity for a factory. Farmers, fishers, and
industry leaders vie for unrestricted access to this river, but such
freedom could destroy the resource, and conservation methods are
necessary to protect the river for future use.

• Conflicts worsen when a natural resource crosses political

boundaries. For example, the headwaters, or source, of a major
river may be located in a different country than the country through
which the river flows.

• Recycling Aluminum Cans In an effort to conserve

nonrenewable natural resources, many industries and
individuals recycle waste aluminum. At this collection
point, the Alcoa Recycling Company in New Jersey
processes aluminum cans into large bales.Photo
Researchers, Inc./Hank Morgan/Science Source

• The challenge of conservation is to understand the
complex connections among natural resources and
balance resource use with protection to ensure an
adequate supply for future generations. In order to
accomplish this goal, a variety of conservation methods
are used. These include reducing consumption of
resources; protecting them from contamination or
pollution; reusing or recycling resources when possible;
and fully protecting, or preserving, resources.

• Environment: The Good News
• Polluted waterways. A thinning ozone layer. Oppressive smog. Is the earth
doomed forever to a hopelessly toxic environment? Maybe not.
Environmental scientist Norman Myers believes the tide of contamination
turned in the last decades of the 20th century. In a 1997 article he reports
on the good news. Myers cites the lowering cost of alternative energies,
such as solar and wind power; an automobile that might someday go coast
to coast on a tank of gas; international cooperation to clean up the
Mediterranean Sea; and most significantly, increasing awareness of how to
clean up the planet—and keep it that way.
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• There are a variety of basic conservation methods used to protect global

natural resources. Although each resource has a unique set of conservation
problems and solutions, all resources are interconnected in a complex and
little-understood web. Scientists have learned that damaging one thread of
the web may weaken the entire structure. It is important that this
connectivity be addressed in the search for solutions to resource shortages.
It would be impractical to work toward the conservation of soil, for instance,
without considering the needs and effects of nearby water and vegetation
resources (see Environment).
• Forest Conservation

• Slash-and-Burn Deforestation The deforestation technique of slash and burn, utilized extensively to clear large areas of forest for
agricultural and other purposes, causes an enormous amount of environmental damage. The large amounts of carbon dioxide given off
into the atmosphere during burning adds to the greenhouse effect. The removal of all trees and groundcover destroys animal habitats and
greatly accelerates erosion, adding to the sediment loads of rivers and making seasonal flooding much more severe.Oxford Scientific
Films/Sean Morris
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• The Role of Forests Forests provide habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals and perform many other important functions that
affect humans. Photosynthesis is the chemical process in the leaves that uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce energy-supplying
sugars for the tree. In the process the foliage gives off pure oxygen for breathing. The forest canopy (the treetops) and root systems
provide natural filters for the water we use from lakes and rivers. When it rains the forest canopy intercepts and re-distributes precipitation
that can cause flooding and erosion, the wearing away of topsoil. Some of the precipitation flows down the trunks as stemflow, the rest
percolates through the branches and foliage as throughfall. The canopy is also able to capture fog, which it distributes into the vegetation
and soil. Forests also increase the ability of the land to store water. The forest floor can hold as much as five times its weight in water and
a tree contains water in its roots, trunk, stems, and leaves. Because of all this stored moisture, forests help to maintain an even flow of
water in rivers and streams in times of flood or drought. The roots of the trees and other vegetation hold the soil in place and control
erosion from wind and rain, preventing flooding and clouding of streams and rivers.© Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
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• Clear-cutting Clear-cutting is a forestry harvesting technique in which all the trees in a given area are removed. The advantages of this
technique include the eventual production of trees of approximately the same age and height, which are easy to harvest using
mechanized equipment. The disadvantages include the elimination of old growth forest and animal habitat, excessive erosion, and an
unappealing landscape. In an effort to conserve forest resources, the timber industry is modifying clear-cutting techniques to include the
complete use of all harvested trees and the replanting of clear-cut areas.Oxford Scientific Films/Mike Birkhead
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• Forests provide many social, economic, and environmental benefits. In addition to timber and paper products, forests provide wildlife
habitat and recreational opportunities, prevent soil erosion and flooding, help provide clean air and water, and contain tremendous
biodiversity. Forests are also an important defense against global climate change. Through the process of photosynthesis, forests
produce life-giving oxygen and consume huge amounts of carbon dioxide, the atmospheric chemical most responsible for global warming.
By decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, forests may reduce the effects of global warming.
• Soil Conservation

• Deforestation and Erosion After the lush vegetation of a rain forest is removed, an area rarely recovers. This
deforested Costa Rican stream valley is eroding away because there is no longer a good root system to anchor
the topsoil or decaying plant matter to replenish its nutrients. If the cycle continues, the area may eventually
resemble a desert.Photo Researchers, Inc./S.E. Cornelius

• Soil, a mixture of mineral, plant, and animal materials, is essential for most plant growth and is the basic resource
for agricultural production. Soil-forming processes may take thousands of years, and are slowed by natural
erosion forces such as wind and rain.
• Water Conservation

• Polluted River in the United Kingdom The pollution of rivers and streams with chemical contaminants has become
one of the most critical environmental problems of the 20th century. Waterborne chemical pollution entering rivers
and streams comes from two major sources: point pollution and nonpoint pollution. Point pollution involves those
pollution sources from which distinct chemicals can be identified, such as factories, refineries or outfall pipes.
Nonpoint pollution involves pollution from sources that cannot be precisely identified, such as runoff from
agricultural or mining operations or seepage from septic tanks or sewage drain fields. It is estimated that each
year 10 million people die worldwide from drinking contaminated water.Oxford Scientific Films/Ben Osborne

• Clean freshwater resources are essential for drinking, bathing, cooking, irrigation, industry, and for plant and
animal survival. Unfortunately, the global supply of freshwater is distributed unevenly.