When I first started working at Red-tail Land Conservancy I wanted to learn as much as I could about the field of conservation. I still do. Barry Banks, the founder and then executive director of Red-tail told me to read, A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold. Barry said, “its the bible for land conservation”.
The first sentence of the forward reads, “There are some people who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” I was hooked. Leopold’s collection of essays, published a year after his death in 1949, are even more relevant today.
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was a hunter, forester, conservationist, educator, and philosopher. He lived through the depression and the dustbowl, he understood tough economic times. He also fished, hunted, and heated his farm with wood. He knew firsthand the practical benefits of nature. A central figure in 20th century conservation, his writings and teachings introduced the concept of ecology and land ethic.
The essays were written during the years Leopold and his family worked to restore the land around their family farm near Baraboo, Wisconsin. In prose like fashion he describes his observations of the land as it changes through many seasons. Wildflowers, trees, birds, insects, fish, mammals, the wind and the water are all active players in his stories.
The poetic descriptions of the natural community around his farm underline his belief that the land is much more than just soil. “The land expands the boundaries to include soils, water, plants, and animals” Leopold wrote.
This concept is the basis for land conservation. It is so much more than a land purchase or quarantine of nature. It is an investment of labor, time and money to actively protect places where entire ecosystems; soils, water, plants and animals (including man) can thrive.
We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.
He believed in order to restore the health of the land, man has to move from conqueror of this community to citizen, working together to help the larger community in which we live. “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
What has changed in the 60 years since A Sand County Almanac was published? The world’s population has grown from 2.5 billion to 7 billion. An accumulation of carbon dioxide is causing climate change, glaciers are melting, pollution is spreading, forests are being eliminated and species are going extinct at unprecedented rates. Changes caused by man are of a different order than evolutionary changes. It is also up to us to implement climate change solutions to combat, or at least slow down, the effects of climate change.
How do we live in a way where our needs are balanced with those of the entire environment? How can we connect more people to nature nearby and raise awareness that everyone is a member and citizen of our natural community?
Leopold writes, “When some remote ancestor of ours invented the shovel, he became a giver: he could plant a tree. And when the axe was invented, he became a taker: he could chop it down.” “All men by what they think about and wish for, in effect wield all tools,” states Leopold.
We start with our own actions and choices. Like everything in the interconnected web of life, our actions create ripples.
Join us as we walk and talk with the Muncie Public Library at Craddock Wetlands. John Craddock will talk about our local conservation story, the White River, and we will discuss A Sand County Almanac. Monday, May 20 6-8pm.
Plant milkweed for Monarchs at Fall Creek Woods Saturday, May 18 9am-12pm
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