Conservation is more than turning off the tap

Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote the Canterbury Tales, probably doesn't come to mind as a conservation expert.
But when tracing the evolution of the idea, Ben Gadd (BASc '72) discovered the English writer was the first person to write it down, in 1384.

Gadd argues that back then, 'conservation' meant – among other things – the preservation and protection of wildlife and its habitat. He feels it's a big difference from some of the modern natural resource industry practices that interpret the term as a form of damage control.

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Ben Gadd (BASc '72) is a noted conservationist who has penned nine books.

"People think they should conserve water by not letting the tap run," Gadd says. "That's fine, but conservation is about more than that. At the root, it's about protecting the wilderness."

Gadd grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo. In 1959, when he was 13 years old, he and some friends took their first overnight hike in the Rockies, hacking down tree branches to build a lean-to – a common practice in those days.

Gadd went on to become a mountaineer and rock climber, overcoming his fear of heights and learning to go more lightly on the land. At the University of Lethbridge, he focused on geology, and during his studies completed two self-directed mini-thesis projects. After graduation, he was back in the mountains, working as a naturalist and park interpreter in Jasper, where he wrote the first of his nine books, Handbook of the Canadian Rockies.

A dedicated conservationist who often speaks about the importance of maintaining wilderness areas and wildlife habitat, he now spends summers leading guided walks and natural history tours. In the winter, he writes and gives lectures. As an environmental activist, Gadd speaks out against practices such as selling trees cut within the national parks and promotes research that shows how regions can generate more long-term income through non-destructive tourism than through resource extraction.

He also urges individuals interested in preserving the wilderness to consider the impact of their careers and lifestyles.

"As a kid, I knew some Quakers who didn't have much money, but they did have a good life," Gadd says. "They taught me that the more you make, the more you take. If you have a small income, you're actually doing less damage to the environment. That's one way to look at conservation."