Human Ecology

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 495–513 | Cite as

Coming to Understanding: Developing Conservation through Incremental Learning in the Pacific Northwest

  • Nancy J. Turner
  • Fikret Berkes


Lessons in conservation are often seen as resulting from cycles of overexploitation and subsequent depletion of resources, followed by catastrophic consequences of shortage and starvation, and finally, development of various strategies, including privatization of the commons, to conserve remaining resource stocks. While such scenarios have undoubtedly occurred on many occasions, we suggest that they are not the only means by which people develop conservation practices and concepts. There are other pathways leading to ecological understanding and conservation, which act at a range of scales and levels of complexity. These include: lessons from the past and from other places, perpetuated and strengthened through oral history and discourse; lessons from animals, learned through observation of migration and population cycles, predator effects, and social dynamics; monitoring resources and human effects on resources (positive and negative), building on experiences and expectations; observing changes in ecosystem cycles and natural disturbance events; trial and error experimentation and incremental modification of habitats and populations. Humans, we believe, are capable of building a sophisticated conservation ethic that transcends individual species and resources. A combination of conservation knowledge, practices, and beliefs can lead to increasingly greater sophistication of ecological understanding and the continued encoding of such knowledge in social institutions and worldview.

Key words

Traditional ecological knowledge conservation indigenous peoples ethnoecology 



We are indebted to the many knowledgeable elders and cultural specialists who contributed to the development of this paper, especially: Cyril Carpenter (Heiltsuk), Arvid Charlie (Hul'qumin'um Coast Salish), Earl Claxton, Sr. (Saanich, Coast Salish), Chief Johnny and Helen Clifton (Gitga'at, Tsimshian), Chief Adam Dick (Kwakwaka'wakw), John Elliott Jr. (Saanich, Coast Salish), Chief Earl Maquinna George (Nuu-Chah-Nulth), Captain Gold (Haida), Dr. Daisy Sewid-Smith (Kwakwaka'wakw), Kim Recalma-Clutesi (Kwakwaka'wakw), Dr. Mary Thomas (Secwepemc), Pauline Waterfall (Heiltsuk), Chief Roger William (Tsilhqot'in). A special Giaxsixa to Pauline Waterfall for her careful reading of this article and her contributions and to Nicholas Claxton for his interest in the Saanich Reefnet fishery. We also thank our colleagues, Dr. Iain Davidson-Hunt, Dr. Eugene Hunn, Dr. Eugene Anderson, and Nigel Haggan for their insights. We also acknowledge with appreciation the contributions of the three anonymous reviewers of this paper. Research was funded in part by Coasts Under Stress major collaborative research initiative (Dr. Rosemary Ommer, P.I.) and through a grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (General research grant #410-2000-1166 to NT). Berkes' work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Canada Research Chairs program.


  1. Alcorn, J. B., Bamba, J., Masiun, S., Natalia, I., and Royo, A. (2003). Keeping ecological resilience afloat in cross-scale turbulence: an indigenous social movement navigates change in Indonesia. In Berkes, F., Colding, J., and Folke, C. (eds.), Navigating the Dynamics of Social–Ecological Systems, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 299–327.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, E. N. (1996). Ecologies of the Heart. Emotion, Belief, and the Environment, Oxford University Press, UK.Google Scholar
  3. Balée, W. (1994). Footprints of the Forest. Ka'apor Ethnobotany—The Historical Ecology of Plant Utilization by an Amazonian People, Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. BC Parks (2000). Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Park. Anhluut'ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga'asanskwhl Nisga'a. Pamphlet. Nisga'a Tribal Council, and BC Parks, Terrace, BC.Google Scholar
  5. Berkes, F. (1999). Sacred Ecology. Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management, Taylor & Francis, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.Google Scholar
  6. Berkes, F., Colding, J., and Folke, C. (2000). Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as Adaptive Management. Ecological Applications 10:1251–1262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Blackburn, T. C., and Anderson, K. (eds.) (1993). Before the Wilderness: Environmental Management by Native Californians, Anthropological Papers No. 40, Ballena Press, Menlo Park, California.Google Scholar
  8. Blackfoot Gallery Committee (2001). Nisitapiisinni . The Story of the Blackfoot People. Exhibit Guide for The Glenbow Museum, Key Porter Books, Toronto, ON.Google Scholar
  9. Boas, F. (1921). Ethnology of the Kwakiutl. Bureau of American Ethnology 35th annual Report, Parts 1 and 2. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, District of Columbia.Google Scholar
  10. Boyd, R. T. (ed.) (1999). Indians, Fire and the Land in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon State University Press, Corvallis.Google Scholar
  11. Brightman, R. A. (1993). Grateful Prey. Rock Cree Human–Animal Relationships, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  12. Brookfield, H. C., and Paddoch, C. (1994). Appreciating Agrodiversity. A Look at the Dynamism and Diversity of Indigenous Farming Practices. Environment 38(5):7–11, 37–45.Google Scholar
  13. Callicott, J. B. (1994). Earth's Insights. A Multicultural Survey of Ecological Ethics from the Mediterranean Basin to the Australian Outback, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  14. Claxton, E., Sr., and Elliott, J., Sr. (1994). Reef Net Technology of the Saltwater People, Saanich Indian School Board, Brentwood Bay, BC.Google Scholar
  15. Colfer, C. J. P. (1992). Beyond Slash and Burn. Building on Indigenous Management of Borneo's Tropical Rain Forests. The New York Botanical Garden, Advances in Economic Botany volume II (C. M. Peters, Series Editor), Bronx, New York.Google Scholar
  16. Crosby, A. W. (1986). Ecological Imperialism. The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900, Cambridge University Press, UK.Google Scholar
  17. Davidson-Hunt, I., and Berkes, F. (2003). Learning as you journey: Anishinaabe perception of social–ecological environments and adaptive learning. Conservation Ecology 8 (1):5. [online] URL: Google Scholar
  18. Deur, D., and Turner, N. J. (eds.) (2005). “Keeping it Living”: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America, University of Washington Press, Seattle, and UBC Press, Vancouver.Google Scholar
  19. Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Garrick, D. (1998). Shaped Cedars and Cedar Shaping (Hanson Island, B.C.), Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Vancouver, BC.Google Scholar
  21. George, E. Maquinna (2003). Living on the Edge. Nuu-Chah-Nulth History from an Ahousaht Chief's Perspective, Sono Nis, Winlaw, BC.Google Scholar
  22. Hunn, E. S., Johnson, D., Russell, P., and Thornton, T. F. (2003). Huna Tlingit Traditional Environmental Knowledge, Conservation, and the Management of a “Wilderness” Park. Current Anthropology 44: S79–S103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jenness, D. (ca. 1930). “The Saanich Indians of Vancouver Island.” Unpublished manuscript, Royal British Columbia Museum. Victoria, No date, pp. 1–10.Google Scholar
  24. Jentoft, S., McCay, B. J., and Wilson, D. C. (1998). Social Theory and Fisheries Co-Management. Marine Policy 22: 423–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Johns, T. (1996). The Origins of Human Diet and Medicine: Chemical Ecology, University of Arizona, Tucson.Google Scholar
  26. Johannes, R. E. (1998). The Case for Data-Less Marine Resource Management: Examples from Tropical Nearshore Fisheries. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 13: 243–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johannes, R. E. (2002). Did Indigenous Conservation Ethics Exist? Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin 14: 3–6.Google Scholar
  28. Krech, S., III (1999). The Ecological Indian: Myth and History, Norton, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Lantz, T. C. (2001). Population Ecology and Ethnobotany of Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus (Sm.) Torr. and A. Gray. ex. Miq.). MS thesis, Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.Google Scholar
  30. Lantz, T. C., and Antos, J. A. (2002). Clonal Expansion in the Deciduous Understory Shrub, Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus (Sm.) Torr. and A. Gray ex. Miq.). Canadian Journal of Botany 80: 1052–1062.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lantz, T. C., and Turner, N. J. (2003). Traditional Phenological Knowledge (TPK) of Aboriginal Peoples in British Columbia. Journal of Ethnobiology 23(2): 263–286.Google Scholar
  32. Lantz, T. C., Swerhun, K., and Turner, N. J. (2004). Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus): An Ethnobotanical Review. Herbalgram 62: 33–48.Google Scholar
  33. Loewen, D. (1998). Ecological, Ethnobotanical, and Nutritional Aspects of Yellow Glacier Lily, Erythronium grandiflorum Pursh (Liliaceae) in Western Canada, MS thesis, Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC.Google Scholar
  34. McIntosh, R. J. (2000). Climate, history and human action. In McIntosh, R. J., Tainter, J. A., and McIntosh, S. K. (eds.), The Way the Wind Blows: Climate, History and Human Action, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 1–42.Google Scholar
  35. M'Gonigle, M., Walter, E., and McKay, C. (1999). Fishing Around the Law: The Pacific Salmon Management System as a Structural Infringement of Aboriginal Rights. Eco-Research Report 99-1, University of Victoria, Victoria, B.C. McGill Law Journal 45: 263–314.Google Scholar
  36. Minnis, P., and Elisens, W. (2000). Biodiversity and Native America, University of Oklahoma, Norman.Google Scholar
  37. Moller, H., Berkes, F. Lyver, P. O., and Kislalioglu, M. (2004). Combining Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Monitoring Populations for Co-management. Ecology and Society 9(3): 2. [online] URL:
  38. Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge University Press, UK.Google Scholar
  39. Pauly, D., Christensen, V., Dalsgaard, J., Froese, R., and Torres, F. (1998). Fishing Down Marine Food Webs. Science 279: 860–863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Peacock, S., and Turner, N. J. (2000). “Just like a garden”: Traditional plant resource management and biodiversity conservation on the British Columbia Plateau. In Minnis, P., and Elisens, W. (eds.), Biodiversity and Native North America, University of Oklahoma, Norman, pp. 133–179.Google Scholar
  41. Redman, C. L. (1999). Human Impact on Ancient Environments, University of Arizona, Tucson.Google Scholar
  42. Salmón, E. (2000). Kincentric Ecology: Indigenous Perceptions of the Human–Nature Relationship. Ecological Applications 10(5):1327–1332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Scientific Panel for Sustainable Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound (1995). First Nations' Perspectives on Forest Practices in Clayoquot Sound, Cortex Consulting, Victoria, BC.Google Scholar
  44. Smith, E. A., and Wishnie, M. (2000). Conservation and Subsistence in Small-Scale Societies. Annual Review of Anthropology 29: 493–524.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Swanton, J. R. (1905). Haida Texts and Myths: Skidegate Dialect. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 29, Government Printing Office, Washington, District of Columbia.Google Scholar
  46. Swezey, S., and Heizer, R. F. (1977). Ritual Management of Salmonid Fish Resources in California. Journal of California Anthropology 4: 6–29.Google Scholar
  47. Teit, J. A. (1912). Mythology of the Thompson Indians. Vol. VII, Part II. The Jesup North Pacific Expedition. In Boas, F. (ed.), Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, G.E. Stechert, New York.Google Scholar
  48. Thornton, T. F. (1999). Tleikwaani, The “Berried” Landscape: The Structure of Tlingit Edible Fruit Resources at Glacier Bay, Alaska. Journal of Ethnobiology 19(1): 27–48.Google Scholar
  49. Touchie, B. (1977). Stealing Daylight. Nitinaht. International Journal of American Linguistics, Native American Text Series 2(3): 69–97.Google Scholar
  50. Tucker, B. (2003). Comment on Hunn et al., Huna Tlingit Traditional Environmental Knowledge, Conservation, and the Management of a “Wilderness” Park. Current Anthropology 44:S98.Google Scholar
  51. Turner, N. J. (2003). “Passing on the News”: Women's Work, Traditional Knowledge and Plant Resource Management in Indigenous Societies of NW N. America. In Howard, P. (ed.), Women and Plants: Case Studies on Gender Relations in Local Plant Genetic Resource Management, Zed Books, UK, pp. 133–149.Google Scholar
  52. Turner, N. J. (2004). Plants of Haida Gwaii. xàadlaa gwaay guud gina k'aws (Skidegate), xàadlaa gwaayee guud ginn k'aws (Massett). Sono Nis, Winlaw, BC.Google Scholar
  53. Turner, N. J. (2005). The Earth's Blanket. Traditional Teachings for Sustainable Living, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, BC and University of Washington, Seattle.Google Scholar
  54. Turner, N. J., and Atleo, E. R. (Chief Umeek). (1998). Pacific North American First Peoples and the Environment. In Coward, Harold (ed.), Traditional and Modern Approaches to the Environment on the Pacific Rim, Tensions and Values, Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, State University of New York, Albany, pp. 105–124.Google Scholar
  55. Turner, N. J., and Loewen, D. C. (1998). The Original “Free Trade”: Exchange of Botanical Products and Associated Plant Knowledge in Northwestern North America. Anthropologica XL (1998): 49–70.Google Scholar
  56. Turner, N. J., and Peacock, S. (2005). Solving the Perennial Paradox: Ethnobotanical Evidence for Plant Resource Management on the Northwest Coast. In Deur, D., and Turner, N. J. (eds.), “Keeping it Living”: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America, University of Washington Press, Seattle and UBC Press, Vancouver, pp. 101–150.Google Scholar
  57. Turner, N. J., Ignace, M. B., and Ignace, R. (2000). Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom of Aboriginal Peoples in British Columbia. Ecological Applications 10(5): 1275–1287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Turner, N. J., Davidson-Hunt, I. J., and O'Flaherty, M. (2003). Living on the Edge: Ecological and Cultural Edges as Sources of Diversity for Social–Ecological Resilience. Human Ecology 31(3): 439–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Turner, N. J., Smith, R. Y., and Jones, J. T. (2005). “A fine line between two nations”: Ownership Patterns for Plant Resources among Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples—Implications for Plant Conservation and Management. In Deur, D., and Turner, N. J. (eds.), “Keeping it Living”: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America, University of Washington Press, Seattle and UBC Press, Vancouver, pp. 151–180.Google Scholar
  60. Turner, N. J., Thomas, J., Carlson, B. F., and Ogilvie, R. T. (1983). Ethnobotany of the Nitinaht Indians of Vancouver Island. British Columbia Provincial Museum Occasional Paper No. 24, Victoria.Google Scholar
  61. Wall, S. (1993). Vickie Downey, Tewa, Tesuque Pueblo, quoted in: Wisdom's Daughters. Conversations with Women Elders of Native America, Harper Collins, New York.Google Scholar
  62. Williams, N. M., and Baines, G. (1988). Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Wisdom for Sustainable Development, Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, Canberra.Google Scholar
  63. Williams, N. M., and Hunn, E. S. (eds.) (1982). Resource Managers: North American and Australian Hunter–Gatherers, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, District of Columbia.Google Scholar
  64. Wilson, J. A., Acheson, J. M., Metcalfe, M., and Kleban, P. (1994). Chaos, Complexity and Communal Management of Fisheries. Marine Policy 18: 291–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Young, E., Ross, H., Johnson, J., and Kesteven, J. (1991). Caring for Country. Aborigines and Land Management, Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Environmental StudiesUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Natural Resources InstituteUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada

Personalised recommendations