Conservation Ethics

“The future of conservation will increasingly focus on the critical use of conservation ethics.”

conservation ethics

Learn how to apply the principles of conservation ethics in a transparent, rational and critical manner to issues in conservation and management.

Presented by workshop leaders and founders of The Conservation Ethics Group:

Michael Nelson

Michael P. Nelson, co-director  ( is an Associate Professor from Michigan State University.  He is an environmental philosopher. Michael is well known as an Aldo Leopold scholar and his contributions to understanding how philosophical attitudes about “wilderness” affect land management. Michael has also contributed to our understanding of how a critical examination of Ojibwa mythologies can be used to understand the richness and complexity of the environmental ethics held by this culture. Michael is called upon regularly by various government agencies to assist in understanding the ethical implications of management decisions. To learn more about Michael’s professional activities click here.

John Vucetich

John A. Vucetich, co-director  ( is an Assistant Professor from Michigan Technological University. He is an ecologist who specializes in population biology. He co-leads research on the internationally-recognized wolves and moose of Isle Royale. John’s field experiences are intensive, and his publications include theoretical aspects of population biology and population genetics and the statistical modeling of ecological data. John has also served as a science or policy advisor for wolf and ungulate management issues in Alaska, Alberta, Ontario, Scandinavia, Mongolia, New Mexico, and Michigan.

Background Information:

Ethical claims are easily identified as statements that can be expressed as: “We ought to...”  While true, this leads many to think ethics is primarily concerned with telling other people how they ought to behave. No. Ethics is an academic discipline whose purview is to understand how one ought to behave. This understanding is gained through the formal analysis of arguments associated with ethical claims about how we ought to behave. As such, the academic field of ethics is more associated with logic than is commonly appreciated.

Conservation and natural resource management is ultimately about the analysis of claims like: “We ought to hunt this population, because...” or “We ought to conserve this land, in this way, because...” In other words, Conservation and natural resource management are conservation ethics in action.

Ethical arguments are not fights, nor do they involve yelling. An ethical argument is a conclusion (e.g., We ought to manage this population in this way.) preceded by a list of premises that are expected to support the conclusion. Argument analysis is the most reliable way known to Western scholars for better understanding whether a conclusion is sound and valid. But the analysis of arguments related to conservation is tricky and difficult business. It involves identifying missing premises; assessing inference mistakes; assessing the reliability of premises; the interaction of premises drawn from far ranging perspectives, including ecology, sociology, politics, various ethical world views; understanding when unreliable premises undermine a conclusion, and when they don’t; communicating the technical results of argument analysis to broader audiences of stakeholders; and more. In this workshop you will learn and practice skills that ethicists have developed for the analysis of arguments.

The future of success of conservation depends on the ability of stakeholders and decision-makers to effectively use of the principles of conservation ethics. These are the principles on which we will focus during this workshop.

Workshop Format:

The three-day workshop includes:

  •  Concepts and case studies in conservation ethics and argument analysis, presented by the workshop leaders
  •  Smaller- and larger-group discussions about those concepts
  •  Informal socialization for the purpose of developing a deeper sense of the concepts

A central activity will be working in small groups with the workshop leaders to develop an argument analysis for some specific challenge in conservation that is of interest to you.  That is, your group will decide the topic. To maximize the learning experience, each small group will share the results of the argument analysis with the entire group at the end of the workshop.

Pre-course Online Reading:

The pre-course Online Readings are required preparation materials. Participants will write a 200-word response to each reading to encourage lively group discussions.

For further information on workshop details and expectations please contact either Michael Nelson ( or John Vucetich (

Registration Information:

  • The Conservation Ethics Workshop meets October 5-7 2012 on the Missoula campus.
  • Space is limited to 20 participants.
  • Please contact the presenters directly with any course content related questions.
  • For registration questions, please contact the Ethics and Public Affairs Program at (406) 243-6605.
  • Participants may choose to enroll in 2 graduate credits with options for traditional letter grade, pass/fail, or audit.

Fees Workshop Option (no credit)  2 Credit Option: Available for graduate credit only
Workshop Fee $340 $340
Credit Fee $0 $135
Total Cost $340 $475

To Register:

For Workshop Option (no credit):

For Credit Option (2 academic credits):

  • Print and send in the Conservation Ethics Registration Form, along with workshop fee payment ($340).
  • At our first meeting, you will also need to pay the credit recording fee ($135) directly to the School of Extended & Lifelong Learning. Forms will be provided.

This course is offered through the Mansfield Ethics and Public Affairs Program at The University of Montana, October 5-7, from 9:00am-5:00pm, with pre-course online work. All participants must pay a course fee to the Ethics and Public Affairs Program and separate fees to UM School of Extended and Lifelong Learning for optional academic credit. Follow the steps described above to pay all relevant fees.

Difference between taking the course for credit or as a workshop: taking the course for academic credit requires an additional payment of $135 and is designed for those who want an academic record of their participation. This fee only applies for those wishing to receive a transcript: if you are not interested in receiving credit or a grade, you may prefer to take the course as a workshop.

If you do intend to take the course for credit and to transfer those credits to your home institution, we suggest that you check with your home institution before registering, as your institution may require you to make arrangements with your home institution's registrar before attending our courses.