Modern nature conservation is a product of post-Enlightenment modernity; I explore the heterogeneity of its conceptual and ideological background. The 19th century legacy comprises concern over human-caused extinctions; protests against excessive hunting and cruelty toward animals; utilitarian care for natural resources; and romantic sensibility concerning the value of nature for human health and spirituality. The 20th century added into conservation thinking increasing consciousness about human biospheric dependence; efforts to identify appropriate conservation targets; and most recently concern over the loss of biodiversity. The politics of nature conservation has taken shape within the framework of politics of nature, that is, choices vis-á-vis nature that have been made either as deliberate decisions on resource use or as side-effects of subsistence practices of various types. Because of tensions and conflicts with alternative ways of using nature, formulating realistic conservation policies has been a complicated task. Problems and uncertainties emerge: pursuing material aspirations of the current world society will necessarily bring about damage to ecological systems of the Earth. The way forward is to identify feasible alternatives in the midst of the tensions and ambiguities that arise, and to open up space for carrying through conservation initiatives.