Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 16, Issue 9, pp 2559–2573 | Cite as

The application of environmental ethics in biological conservation: a case study from the southernmost tip of the Americas

  • Sylvia HaiderEmail author
  • Kurt Jax
Original Paper


Biological conservation is not only about facts and technical measures concerning ecology, rather it must also consider values. This pertains to both the balancing of various human interests and also to the ethical evaluation of human actions towards nature. Here we discuss how environmental ethics can be incorporated into conservation decisions, and what implications the inclusion of ethical valuation has for the practice of conservation biology. While this is done mostly on a rather abstract level, we illustrate this here by applying ethical theory to a case study: the options for management of the introduced North American beaver (Castor canadensis) in the very south of Chile (Navarino Island). The beaver is an exotic species to the area and has substantially altered the ecological systems of the region. We discuss different options for dealing with the beaver (eradicate, control, tolerate, promote) from the viewpoint of anthropocentric environmental ethics and biocentric ethics. The results of our analysis demonstrate the value of ethical discussions in clarifying and underpinning arguments for and against specific actions. At the same time, they also show that ethical arguments do not decrease the need for sound scientific data but, on the contrary, may even increase this demand. We also highlight that the conclusions regarding adequate actions to be taken vary depending on the specific ethical theory embraced.


Beaver Cape Horn Archipelago Chile Conservation conflicts Conservation ethics Environmental ethics Evaluation Invasive species 



The authors are grateful for the support of many colleagues from the Omora Foundation, Puerto Williams, Chile, in particular Christopher B. Anderson, Ricardo Rozzi and Francisca Massardo. Thanks also to Uta Berghöfer and Elke Schüttler (both Leipzig) for providing access to unpublished interview data from their ongoing studies. Martin Gorke, Greifswald, and Christopher B. Anderson read earlier versions of the manuscript and provided many helpful comments as did two anonymous reviewers. Travel support to Sylvia Haider was provided by the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). The study was also supported by and connected to the project “Evaluation of biological diversity under the perspective of the Ecosystem Approach of the Convention on Biological Diversity, on the basis of the case study of the island Navarino” (BIOKONCHIL), funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), FKZ 01LM0208.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chair of Landscape EcologyTechnische Universität MünchenFreisingGermany
  2. 2.Department of Conservation BiologyUFZ Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-HalleLeipzigGermany

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