Aldo Leopold was an American author, philosopher, naturalist, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac, which has sold more than two million copies.
Leopold spent his working life in government service and academia. But his influence is based mostly on a series of articles he wrote for magazines such as American Forests, Journal of Forestry, and Journal of Wildlife Management. These, published after his death as parts of A Sand County Almanac, are Leopold’s enduring legacy. With the precision of a scientist and the sensitivity of a poet, he catalogues the emotional strands that join us to the natural world.
Killing the Wolf
We saw what we thought was a doe fording the torrent, her breast awash in white water. When she climbed the bank toward us and shook out her tail, we realized our error: it was a wolf. A half-dozen others, evidently grown pups, sprang from the willows and all joined in a welcoming melee of wagging tails and playful maulings. What was literally a pile of wolves writhed and tumbled in the center of an open flat at the foot of our rimrock.
In those days we had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. In a second we were pumping lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy; how to aim a steep downhill shot is always confusing. When our rifles were empty, the old wolf was down, and a pup was dragging a leg into impassable side-rocks.
We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
“Thinking Like a Mountain” in A Sand County Almanac
The Land Ethic
“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.
“The Land Ethic” from A Sand County Almanac
Passenger Pigeon, extinct
We have erected a monument to comemorate the funeral of a specias. It symbolizes our sorrow. We grieve because no living man will see again the onrushing phalanx of victorious birds, sweeping a path for spring across the March skies, chasing the defeated winter from the woods and praries of Wisconsin.
Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know. …
The pigeon was a biological storm. He was the lightening that played between two opposing potentials of intolerable intensity: the fat of the land and the oxygen of the air.
“Wisconsin” in A Sand County Almanac
Food and Fuel
There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.
To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.
To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside.
“February” in A Sand County Almanac
Voluntary adherance to an ethical code elevates the self-respect of the sportsman, but it should not be forgotten that voluntary disregard of the code degenerates and depraves him. For example, a common denominator of all sporting codes is not to waste good meat. Yet it is now a demonstrable fact that Wisconsin deer-hunters, in their pursuit of a legal buck, kill and abandon in the woods at least one doe, fawn, or spike buck for every two legal bucks taken out. In other words, approximately half the hunters shoot any deer until a legal deer is killed. The illegal carcasses are left where they fall. Such deer-hunting is not only without social value, but constitutes actual training for ethical depravity elsewhere.
“Wildlife in American Culture” from A Sand County Almanac
Aldo Leopold's Name Misrepresented
a letter from his children to The Seattle Times reprinted by permission of Dr. Luna Leopold
Our father, the American naturalist and forester Aldo Leopold, when he was alive, wrote at length about how fire has an important natural role in maintaining the forest ecosystems of the West. But his name has been seriously misused in an Aug. 19 opinion piece in The Seattle Times. Logging-industry sympathizer Bill Coates said that Aldo Leopold — whose ideas Coates lauded — would have supported the so-called “Forest Health Bill” now before Congress.
In fact, the legislation runs exactly counter to Aldo Leopold’s published ideas about stewardship of the national forests, for the bill would promote dubious “salvage” logging practices in the name of forest health.
President Clinton approved the Northwest Forest Plan in 1992 as an attempt at compromise between conservationist demands for protection of public forests and timber corporations, which desire to expand logging. Now, an innocent-sounding piece of legislation — the “Federal Lands Forest Health Protection and Restoration Act” — threatens to undermine even the weak protection measures in the president’s plan.
We cannot imagine how Aldo Leopold’s name could possibly be employed in defense of this bill!
Written by logging-industry lobbyists and rammed through committee without adequate input from scientists or the public, Sen. Larry Craig’s bill (S. 391) would permanently undermine important environmental laws and restrict the public’s ability to challenge destructive logging practices.
Sen. Craig, R-Idaho, one of the largest recipients of timber PAC money in Congress, narrowly focuses the “forest health” debate on the health of commercially valuable timber — at the expense of the entire forest ecosystem.
In a nutshell, Craig’s bill attempts to: (1) set aside huge tracts of our national forests — perhaps millions of acres — in logging priority zones that can remain in place forever; (2) severely limit public participation in, and scientific oversight of, logging practices in our national forests, and (3) allow the Forest Service to sell an unlimited number of broadly defined “salvage” sales — up to 200 log trucks worth of timber at a time — with no environmental review whatsoever.
Decades of unrestricted logging and fire control have created unnatural, unhealthy conditions and increased fire risks in a number of National Forests in the West. One recent scientific study, the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, prepared for Congress by more than 100 independent scientists, concluded that “Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate and fuel accumulation has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity.”
In addition, a letter to President Clinton signed by 111 scientists and researchers in June concluded that salvage logging “increases susceptibility to catastrophic fires and insect outbreaks.”
Congress should reject Sen. Craig’s poorly conceived bill that pretends to aid “forest health” but in fact serves the interests of short-term timber industry profiteering.
What is needed now is ecological restoration, not more salvage logging and attendant road-building. We need a different approach that looks at specific regions and problems including ecological use of fire, and one that advocates methods to restore the health of the entire ecosystem, not just trees with commercial value. This idea would fit well with Aldo Leopold’s vision and philosophy — maintaining our remaining national forests as the international treasures that they are.
Luna B. Leopold is an emeritus professor of geology at U.C. Berkeley; Nina Leopold Bradley is a restoration ecologist with the Leopold Foundation of Baraboo, Wisc.; Aldo Carl Leopold is an emeritus professor of plant sciences at Cornell University, and Estella B. Leopold is a professor of botany at the University of Washington.
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