As a hiker, backpacker and climber I know that conservation is important. Experiences in pristine environments have changed how I relate to the world around me. Insights I have had while sitting next to an alpine lake with alpenglow alighting the mountains or while catching the last wave of the day as the sun sets on an empty Costa Rican beach are priceless.
Chances are if if you spend your days outside you have similar experiences. These are moments in nature where the course of your life has veered.
The Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness. All photos: Matt Allenbaugh
You and I—we already believe that conservation of natural resources is important. But what about the folks who don't spend their days outdoors? People who might not be troubled by the fact that we are cutting down forests at a rate of over 50,000 square miles annually—a size larger than my home state of Pennsylvania. People who might not be particularly bothered that human activity is causing the sixth major extinction on Earth since life began 3.8 billion years ago, at a rate of over 1,000 times what would naturally occur.
This is what concerns me when I think about those who do not support conservation efforts. If people can justify not caring that another species of life goes extinct because it is "just" a beetle or mushroom or bird, then it becomes easier to justify another culture or group of people be discriminated against or eradicated because they aren't like us.
Facts and statistics about loss of biodiversity or habitat may not change some people's minds or convince them to care about conservation. But perhaps stories can.
And the story I return to when I think about conservation is one that repeats itself on every outdoors adventure I take: We humans are not separate from the rest of life.If I catch a trout while backpacking in the national forest, grill it over the fire and make its flesh nutrition for my own wanderings, then I have integrated that fish's life and its past into my own. I believe that for the remainder of my days, our two lives are forever connected. The trees that provided shade to cool the water where the fish swam, and roots that stabilized the soil and prevented sediment from filing in the voids between rocks where it transformed from an egg, and branches that provided a perch for a mayfly to land upon before falling to the water and becoming that trout's last meal are now all a part of me, and me of them.
Perhaps this is why John Muir's reflections resonate so deeply for me: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
This is why conservation matters. Conservation is not the protection of something else, something outside, separate or different than we are. But exactly the opposite, it is the preservation and salvation of our whole, entire selves.
Matt Allenbaugh is a backpacker, cyclist, climber, outdoor educator and advocate of conservation and environmental issues. He has two master's degrees related to sustainability and has served as Conservation Chair for a chapter of Trout Unlimited. Find him on Instagram @mattallenbaugh.