Edel: Preservation vs Conservation

Edel: Preservation vs Conservation

Jeffrey Edel
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

The National Park Service is involved in both these initiatives, and often we use the terms interchangeably, as I did in a recent Castillogram; but, they are rather different approaches and so require some definition.

Preservation means maintaining something in its perfect and unaltered condition; i.e., keeping it, as it is, forever.

For the Castillo that would be almost impossible. It would mean no visitation could be allowed and protective barriers would need to be put in place to defend against weather and other intrusions. It would be like putting the fort under a giant bell jar. This approach offers few usage options and is especially restrictive to the public.

Preservation recommends itself to unique historical items such as artifacts and documents; e.g. the original document of the Declaration of Independence or the “star spangled banner” the flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired our national anthem.

It can also be utilized in protecting fragile endangered wildlife or threatened historical areas such as the bristlecone pine or the Anasazi culture cliff dwellings.

Conservation is another goal altogether. Conservation is planned management, essentially active caretaking under use. Under this scenario, wear and tear is considered normal, it’s expected.

Replacing, for example, a degraded block in the Castillo’s wall would not be seen as a “sacrilegious act”, but rather a “necessary and warranted” act to maintain the site for its defined purpose. Conservation allows us to use the site, object or resource to educate the public, entertain or provide recreation, interpret historical site relevance, inform about our cultural heritage, etc.

At times preservation and conservation can actually be in conflict with each other. So, the Park Service has to make tough decisions as to which approach should be used and where and when to use it.

There will always be controversy, but we strive to maintain and regulate the sites, objects and resources placed in our care in order to offer them to the public while at the same time ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy them, as well.


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