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Interview: Former USNPS chief looks to the future of conservation in book

“Small books can have big aims,” Jonathan Jarvis and Gary Machlis write in the first few pages of The Future of Conservation: A Chart for Rough Water (University of Chicago Press, 2018). Indeed, the National Park Service’s former director (and at this point also its last, as the current administration has yet to select a replacement) and his former science advisor have the ambitious goal to unite and guide conservationists in the wake of the election of President Trump—no small feat in under 100 pages.

The authors see the election and its consequences (the titular “rough water”) as a symptom of a larger problem within the conservation movement. Throughout the book, they reflect upon the ways in which the history of conservation—from its roots borne out of business interests to the systematic exclusion of certain groups—has brought the movement to what they see as a point of division and inaccessibility. Jarvis and Machlis warn against conservationists “stumbl[ing] from each defensive action to the next” and urge organizations to keep conservation “relevant.” This can be done, they argue, not necessarily through memes and hashtags (though the National Park Service’s centennial Find Your Park campaign was a smashing success), but by connecting all Americans to their history and the nation’s natural splendor.


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