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By Sara Hare

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014
BIOLOGY 1120-F14

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For the love of the Land

Aldo Leopold wrote an important essay on conservation titled The Land Ethic in
1949. While over sixty years have passed since this article was written, many of the
concerns and values Leopold discussed are as relevant today as they were back then.
While Leopold discussed many important issues in the essay, I felt there were two main
concepts that Leopold emphasized throughout the work. The first was mankind’s lack of
understanding of the impact we have on the biotas we inhabit, and the sense of
privilege we hold toward the land with no obligation to take care of it. The second was
the delicate balance of nature and the animals who share this biota with us, and if
changes aren’t made to care for this balance, the long term effects will be devastating.
Leopold was very adamant about the fact that man needs to stop acting like a
“conqueror” of the land, and needs to start acting instead like a member and a citizen of
the community. He stressed that humans are doing more harm than good to our land,
and need to start caring for our biotas. Leopold wrote, “The land relation is still
economic, entailing privileges but not obligation.” He spoke of some farmers who,
when being financially compensated by the government went to particular lengths to
care for their land. However, when the compensation ceased, so did the extra efforts
made by the farmers even though they were fully aware that the welfare of their land
(and income) was in peril. Leopold accentuated that everyone needs to educate
themselves on conservation and start caring for this amazing land we live on. We need
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to make this issue a priority, or the long term effects will be overwhelming and
The second but equally important issue Leopold discusses is the delicate balance
of a biota. He writes about the “land pyramid”, which refers to the fact that every
element of a community relies on each other to maintain the balance within. The base
layer is the soil, the plants layer is next, and then insects followed by birds and rodents,
and so on and so forth until the apex layer, which is carnivores. Each layer is equally
important, and when one layer is affected, all the others suffer the effect. When
humans destroy a biota to build a shopping center or housing complex, we disrupt that
natural balance. This very issue is why hundreds of species of plants and animals have
gone extinct, and many more are on their way.
The overall message Leopold sends with this essay is apparent. The time is way
past due for humans to start respecting and caring for the land we inhabit. We need to
educate ourselves and take the steps to becoming part of our community, instead of the
conqueror of it. As Leopold said, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and
land.” People need to learn this philosophy, and start living it.
My personal philosophy when it comes to conservation is every effort makes a
difference, regardless of how small or large. I know I could be doing more in the greater
scheme of things, but I was taught at a very young age by my parents that we can all do
our part, and the little things add up and make a difference, no matter how insignificant
they might seem. By doing things as basic as recycling and reusing plastics, aluminum,
and paper, reducing the use of pesticides in my garden, using environmentally friendly
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cleaning products, buying organic foods and carpooling, I am at least reducing my
carbon footprint. I am in the process of remodeling my house to conserve energy and
be more efficient by means of better insulation and windows, an energy efficient air
conditioner and furnace, and a good ventilation system. In the next several years I will
also be xeriscaping my yard to decrease the amount of water I use.
To further my efforts, I vote and back people who demonstrate support for long
term ecological sustainability. Leopold wrote, “A land ethic changes the role of humans
from conqueror of the land community to plain members and citizens of it. It implies
respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” This is a
drastic and difficult change to make since the human race has already done such a vast
amount of damage to the land and the ecosystem around us, but electing officials and
representatives who can inspire and influence change in the community is a step in the
right direction. With leaders and public figures who prioritize conserving our land and
everything that lives on it, they can make their voices heard and arouse public
awareness to how huge this issue is. Only by educating the masses on how much life is
being lost can we hope to slow the progression and hopefully conserve our land, in
essence going from conquerors to members of a community we respect.
Most Americans have a firm belief that this amazing land we live on is not a
privilege, but a right. By believing this philosophy humans have managed to over-run
and over populate the land, and according to National Geographic species extinction is
happening 1000 times faster because of humans. Leopold wrote in the 1940’s, “The
land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.” I feel that
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this mentality is still as true today as it was over sixty years ago. Many people choose to
ignore, or are genuinely ignorant of the land conservation problems we are facing in the
United States and worldwide. People must embrace their role as part of the community
and do their part to conserve their biotas.
The definition of biota is the animal and plant life of a particular region, habitat,
or geological period. By accepting our role in our biota we must take care to be
sensitive to all the needs of all living things, both human and nonhuman. To me, this
means disrupting the natural communities as little as possible to conserve and preserve
life. Ideally, this would mean less expansion into natural areas, less use of harmful
pesticides and pollutants, and better use of our natural resources. I feel that the latter
two are achievable through education of the public, however with though with the rate
of which our cities are growing to keep up with demand of the ever growing population
of humans, I fear expansion into many biotas is inevitable.
Leopold said “the less violent the man made changes, the greater the
probability of successful readjustment in the pyramid.” Hopefully in the near future
through community education and keeping man made changes to a minimum we can
minimize the effects humans have on existing biotas. I must agree with Leopold’s
passage, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of
the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” There is something very
wrong and upsetting about the human mentality that we are somehow superior to the
other species in our community, and that our needs are somehow more important than
all other’s needs. Humans need to reassess our priorities and develop a new
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relationship with our land, one based on respect, love, admiration. While it is important
to appreciate beauty, it is our ethical duty to care for our land. We still have time to
right the wrongs we have inflicted on our land, but that window of opportunity is closing
and once it’s gone, it will be gone forever.
Within my lifetime, I have witnessed changes to the earth as well as the
disappearance of certain species. I remember as a child I would see regularly see
monarch butterflies, praying mantises and honeybees. 25 years later seeing these
species are a rarity. Likewise, I visited Glacier National Park last summer and the rate at
which the glaciers are receding is astonishing. I am terrified to see where everything will
be in another 25 years! My thoughts about a land ethic may be slightly self-serving on a
basic level, but my primary objective is to conserve our amazing planet and all of its
living things, and to preserve our land so future generations can enjoy its beauty.
I think Leopold did an excellent job with The Land Ethic, and I feel it delivers a
very important message to its readers. He points out that the development of a land
ethic within a community is not only an intellectual process, but an emotional process as
well. He writes, “Conservation is paved with good intentions which prove to be futile, or
even dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either of the land, or
of economic land-use.” Throughout the essay Leopold can’t emphasize enough the
importance of education. People must learn the significance of conservation and what
they can do to help.
Leopold’s essay was well written and appealed to me as a reader on an
emotional and logical level. Even with being written over sixty years ago, the
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information is presented in a logical manner, and in a context that I could identify with.
The entire essay appealed to me on an emotional level as well, by discussing issues near
to my heart. It inspired me, and made me want to do more than I am currently doing to
help conserve our land. I would absolutely recommend that everyone should read this
article. It is an excellent starting point for people to begin their education of
conservation, the very thing that Leopold stressed so much.
The concept of a land ethic may seem overwhelming, and even unattainable.
Humans have done huge amounts of damage to our land, but this is by no means a lost
cause. Change has to start somewhere, and now is a perfect time to educate ourselves
as much as possible about conservation. Like I said before, every effort counts, no
matter how big or small. It is time to educate yourself and start taking action! It is time
to join your community.

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Works Cited

Dell'Amore, Christine. “Species Extinction Happening 1,000 Times Faster Because of Humans?”
National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 29 May. 2014. Web. 20 Sep. 2014.