For most of its history, the human species has lived by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plant foods. It can be suggested that the relationship of hunter-gatherers with nature was relatively benign, people received a remarkable amount of knowledge about plants and animals with which they associate and on which they depend. A number of modern medicines have come from traditional tribal cultures when medicine was made of different wild plants. It is also known that in prehistoric times people did modify their natural environment. Many grassland areas throughout the world have come to exist because people used fire as an aid to hunting or modify vegetation to make it more suitable for their needs. Early hunting and gathering cultures contributed to extermination of some animal species. But this seems to have been more of an exception than a general practice. We can suggest that the early humanity lived in an equable balance with the natural environment. If they had done serious damage, people could not have survived. With urban life came pressure upon the natural environment and upon agricultural lands that was sometimes excessive. There is widespread evidence of serious soil erosions during ancient times. Destruction of vegetation and the spread of deserts followed the rise of early urban civilizations.
Certain conservation practices developed in early civilizations. Some species of animals were protected by religious taboos; religious sanctions prevented destruction of forest groves and sacred mountains. The use of organic fertilizer to maintain soil fertility is found among many more recent primitive peoples and has had a long history in Western Agriculture. The Bible is filled with various injunctions governing the use of land and resources that have a conservation function.
The Phoenicians and the Incas civilizations developed techniques of terracing to prevent soil erosion on hillsides and to make more effective use of water for irrigation. The earliest civilizations also created reserves or parks to protect wildlife or natural areas. There were hunting preserves for the use of the royalty but they also served a conservational function.
The written description of Roman agriculture showed the improvement of land-use practice. The well-tended irrigated fields and gardens were developed during the height of Muslim culture. Great skill was achieved in conservation of soil resources in Western Europe, Japan and China in the pre-industrial period. Irrigated lands in the Nile valley and volcanic soils in tropical Southwest Asia have been kept fertile and productive over thousands of years.
It must be admitted that concern over wild nature wasn't widespread in pre-industrial times.
Starting with the voyages of discovery in the 15th century the influence of European culture was spread over the world. By the 17th century Europeans were equipped with a powerful technology and could modify large areas of the Earth and subdue less aggressive peoples. During this period the attitudes of explorers and colonists were oriented more toward immediate personal aggrandizement of the lands they settled than toward any concern for the long-term productivity of the newly discovered countries. The spread of European civilization was accompanied with soil erosion and the destruction of natural vegetation and wildlife in America, Australia and Africa. Nevertheless, during the same period, various conservation ideas and practices were being promoted. Forest conservation was developed in the early 17th century in England and France. In the 18th century in North America Thomas Jefferson put forward ideas for land management and conservation and a general interest in and concern for wildlife was developing.
The 19th century witnessed unusually severe environmental degradations. In Australia live stock populations were allowed to increase to levels far above what the natural forage could support. In Africa many forms of wildlife were hunted to extinction and most of the larger mammals were reduced to numbers that endangered their survival. In North America however the changes were most dramatic. The great herds of wildlife that inhabited the plains and prairies vanished as the numbers of bison, elk, antelope, and deer were reduced by hunters. Logging and fires combined to menace the once luxurious forests of New England, the states surrounding the Great Lakes, and the South. The grasslands were overgrazed, and in some areas such as California native vegetation was eliminated over most of its range and replaced by species of European and Asian origin.
By contrast, in the long-settled areas of Europe and Asia changes were much less marked as conservation - oriented systems of land management persisted.
The main features of the recent history of conservation are a great expansion of government roles in protecting the environment and a growth of public interest in and support for this process. National park systems dedicated to the preservation of wild nature and to the provision of outdoor recreation space, has grown rapidly. Natural - forest systems, dedicated to the multiple use of wild - land resourses, have also become established. In the US the conservation of wildlife became a cause of national interest. A system of wildlife refuges was established. On private and on public - domain lands deterioration continued and it became widely recognized that many privately farmlands had been depleted or exhausted. Firm control over management of lands in the public domain to establish soil conversation was accepted as appropriate activities for the national government.
Conservation ideas spread widely. By the 1920s national parks were to be found on all continents. In 1924 the Soviet Union established the first of its national reserves (zapovedniki). Conservation - oriented management of forest lands also became more widely accepted throughout the world. The scientific basis for the management of wild grazing lands for the sustained production of forage for livestock was spread all over the world. Aldo Leopold in the US in 1933 wrote a textbook on game management. This book focused on the conservation and management of wild animal life for such purposes as sport hunting and fishing on a sustained basis.
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