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The Land Ethic: Forester Aldo Leopold's Philosophy

Aldo Leopold's Forestry Influence


Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold

Leopold Education Project

The term "land ethic" was coined by a forester named Aldo Leopold. Leopold was a scientist, poet, and philosopher. His combination of talents and a small book called A Sand County Almanac propelled a particular ethic forward to be adopted by many conservationists and ecologists of today.

If you dig deep enough (digging is philosophy) it is difficult to deny that we manage forests from particular perspectives, many of which are at odds with other groups and individuals in our society. There are even different perspectives within the forestry profession. This was true as Aldo Leopold chiseled out his famous last piece in the last "The Upshot" section of the Almanac . This piece, called "The Land Ethic", sketched out in broad strokes the moral implications of ecology.

What was up to then a utilitarianist view that forest management should be "for the better good of humanity", Leopold suggested a change to a "biotic conservation" view. Says Leopold, "Untold species, both large and small, may provide future sources of food and medicines. If we fully understood the usefulness of nature, then as good utilitarians we should be able to preserve it without disturbing our venerable beliefs about our uniqueness and superiority as human beings."

The fundamental tenets of Leopold's "Land Ethic" are these:

- "Land" is a system of interdependent parts which should be regarded as a "community" and not a "commodity". Today's scientists would call that "land" the ecosystem.

- Homo Sapiens is a member, not the master, of the land community. This concept is still very hard to swallow by some conservative conservationists.

-"The Whole informs the part" which means we can only understand our place in nature by first understanding the place of all creatures that compose the "Whole".

-Man's duty is to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the "biotic community".

Some have insisted that the Almanac is not a scientific work - that it is oversimplification. Leopold himself might agree (although he was a founder of the science of wildlife management, author of numerous scientific books and over 300 technical papers).

In writing the Almanac , Leopold simply said "Dear Reader: share with me, if you will, my experiences, then my thought, and if you choose to follow, then my vision. And if you seek foundations and proof, there are libraries and laboratories at your disposal. Moreover, if you so choose, you might even set your career upon such a course. But first, just try this vision." No more, no less.

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