“Conservation means harmony between men and land. When land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land: when both end up better by reason of their partnership, we have conservation. When one or the other grows poorer, we do not.”
— Aldo Leopold, The Land Ethic
With this short paragraph, Aldo Leopold opens his 1939 article from American Forests, titled “The Farmer as a Conservationist.” Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast and is regarded as the father of wildlife management.
He is particularly well known for his book, “The Sand County Almanac.” In the book, Leopold introduced a concept he called the land ethic and it is a theme covered throughout his writing.
In short, he suggests that mankind needs to have moral principles about how we deal with the natural world. In “The Sand County Almanac,” he writes that “there is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.”
Today, we have moved a long way from the 1930s and 1940s when Leopold wrote of how we sent soil helter-skelter down-river, assumed water to have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage, exterminated whole plant communities, and extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful animals
Whether there now exists a land ethic or not may be debatable. However, the facts are that we have made great strides in thinking about how we impact the land and understanding the roles ecosystems play.
However, there is still a long path ahead to continue to develop and spread the message of conservation and a land ethic.
Today, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts across the nation work to educate landowners and residents about conservation of the land. The “land” that Leopold references is not just the ground, but all of our natural resources that make up our ecosystem.
This includes all parts of the system: plants, animals, insects, soil, water — even the air. Conservation of these resources implies that we use them to meet our needs as a society, but that we do so wisely, minimizing detrimental impacts now and for future generations.
Having a land ethic takes it a step further towards considering the entire system as a whole.
Likewise, we need to take the time to think about the impacts we are having and how we might be able to change to manage our impacts on the land, whether on cropland, forest, pasture, or urban areas.
Steps to take
There are many ways you can take a step forward in building a stronger land ethic. One way is to continue learning about how you can conserve the natural resources on your own farm or in your own backyard.
Many conservation districts, extension offices, and other conservation groups offer a wide variety of programs designed for crop producers, graziers, or gardeners. As we continue to learn about these resources and apply that knowledge, only then will both the owner and the land end up better by reason of their partnership.
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