Although economic analysis can be used to argue for preservation of species and habitats, many natural assets represent inferior investments in society's asset portfolio. We demonstrate this for the case of ancient temperate rainforests and minke whales ( Balaenoptera acutorostrata). For both rainforests and whales, we determined their value for harvest and balanced this against society's valuation of the preserved stock. For the market and nonmarket data available, we then determined how much rainforest and how many minke whales global society should keep in its asset portfolio. Although ecologists increasingly attempt to justify preservation of biological assets on economic grounds, we argue that this might be a dangerous approach to take. Ultimately, it may be necessary to reexamine the ethical foundations for conservation of nature and biodiversity, including the economist's use of utilitarianism. We suggest that the safe minimum standard approach may prove useful in practice.