Opening the first pages of Andrew Balmford’s book Wild Hope: On the Front Lines of Conservation Success, I found myself feeling immensely skeptical. I usually have held a somewhat wary view of conservation, tying it to the ideologies of Gifford Pinchot, a contemporary of Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, who advocated for the conservation of wild places so that their resources might be available for future generations (as opposed to Muir’s preservationist view that desired to preserve wild places for their intrinsic value and sacred beauty). I have agreed with many of the critiques articulated by William Cronon, who sees preservation of wilderness—defined as wild landscapes untouched by human impacts—as a fantasy of civilization born of Romantic ideals. Yet I also know that it is absolutely vital that human beings begin to lessen our impact on wild landscapes and to make room for the countless multitude of other species with whom we should be sharing this planet.
Delving into Wild Hope and reading of the different conservation projects that are having positive impacts across the globe gave me just that: hope. It is such a nourishing experience to taste hope in the face of all the devastation we have caused. While the stories of conservation success clearly had shadow sides—deadly violence to protect endangered animals, economic incentives based on the same capitalist model that has created the destruction in the first place—what inspired me was that around the world people are taking action. Although the odds are clearly against those who wish to slow ecological decline, reverse climate change, and save thousands of species from extinction, I have always felt that we should still use all of the imagination, creativity, and will that we have to take action on behalf of the Earth. Sometimes when the air is particularly thick with despair I still know that at a karmic level this is what must be done, even when it seems hopeless on the surface.
Perhaps what I appreciated most in Wild Hope was the level of creativity and imagination expressed by those who want to make some difference in conserving the ecosystems of our world. I believe imagination is a great gift to ecology, one that gives those drawing on its power a sense of deep connection and aliveness. Drawing from the wellspring of imagination seems to inspire in others a desire to do the same. Perhaps the greatest value in reading Wild Hope for me was that as I saw how others were engaging creatively to find solutions and participate in holding actions, I felt more inspired to continue with the work as well.