Telling Conservation Stories

There were many narratives at the World Parks Congress—conservation for justice, conservation for development, conservation for indigenous culture, conservation for ecosystem services, conservation to prevent climate collapse, conservation for all of the above—and so conservation becomes infinitely complicated, multifaceted, difficult to define.  Of course conservation should be complicated because resource use, ownership, and access are complicated, as are balancing the needs/wants of the present and future.  But all too often these complicated narratives blend and confound conservation methods (poverty reduction, education) with motivations and results (ten thousand hectares of forest unlogged or seas unfished).  In promising to deliver everything, these conservation narratives lose authenticity.

Enter Harvey Locke, one of the many interesting individuals we had the opportunity to sit down with at the World Parks Congress.  Harvey was a lawyer, once upon a time.  Today, Harvey is the co-founder of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation (Y2Y) Initiative.  Their mission is to connect and protect habitat from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem to the Yukon Territory so “people and nature can thrive.”

Discussion with Harvey Locke

Harvey is unapologetically motivated by the natural world.  As he puts it: “I’m a big fat nature dude.”  In fact for Harvey, the conservation of nature—preventing anthropogenic species loss—is a moral imperative.  It’s refreshing to hear someone come straight out and explain what drives them, and Harvey knows it.   When he works with ranchers, indigenous communities, or oil and gas executives to advocate for better land planning within the Y2Y corridor, Harvey is always upfront about his values.  And people respect him for it.  His advice:  speak your truth.

Speaking your truth, however, is just the first step.  Harvey calls for a clearer conservation story, one that can compete with the dominant economic narrative that defines prosperity and growth in terms of dollars and cents.  “The story of the need for constant economic growth is relatively new”, he explains, “but they’re telling a better story.”  So we [in the conservation world] need a good story.  When Harvey ran for Parliament in Alberta in 2012, he strove to do just that. (He lost by four points, he told us, quite a feat in a traditionally conservative district.)

As Harvey describes it, the story he told was simple.  “Here’s the earth,” he’d tell people, making a wide circle in the air with his arms.  Society is a smaller circle, contained within the earth. And the economy is a smaller circle still, contained within society.   Taken together, it looks something like this:

earth, society, economy

The moral of the story: economy should serve society, not the other way around (and of course, we have just one earth of resources to make it all work).  To illustrate his point, Harvey would compare Libya and Canada.  “Libya has as much oil and gas as us, but they aren’t as rich.  Why not?”  The answer, he explains, is Canada’s investment in education, healthcare, and the environment, in society and the future of the planet.

We need clear narratives in the conservation world.   They don’t have to be Harvey’s narrative, but his spirit of truth and simplicity offers a useful roadmap for story telling.  If we do it right, conservation should weave easily into any narrative—as Harvey told us, “In the 21st Century we crave a story of hope, and there’s no hope in a future without nature.”