Mariah Slagle


The Lack of Land Ethics

Conservation Biology BIOL 1120-400

Leopold begins his essay by defining ethics, “An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on

freedom of action in the struggle for existence. An ethic, philosophically, is a differentiation of

social from anti-social conduct.” He then goes on to explain that while we have these ethics for

each other, we do not have comprehensive ethics when it comes to land and the natural aspects of

that land. Because of the way he begins the essay, the rest of his points come together in a more

comprehensive, knowledgeable way. The world community that we are a part of is not made of

purely human members. A Land’s value cannot be determined purely through economic means,

because the land itself had innate value not determined by what can be gained from it. Leopold

makes a very interesting point that while we may think we know how the land functions and

what it needs to survive, the bigger picture is still unknown to us. The Land Ethic shows us the

issues surrounding our morals or lack thereof when it comes to our natural land, however, it also

shows us the important steps we can take to begin this transformation of thought.

In the Land Ethic, we discover that the way we think our community may not be entirely

true. Typically, when we think of our community we think about the people who live nearby and

the grocery store down the street, however this is entirely incorrect. In the Land Ethic we are

shown that our community is made up of members of nature as well, the soil, plants, and animals

are all members of this community. Because of this, the process changes when we think about

caring for our community. With of the inclusion of these previously unacknowledged members,

the community must act in the interest of all members, meaning that all members are recognized

to have the right to continued existence and the right to thrive. These non-human members of our

community must be acknowledged if a land ethic is to be developed.

Leopold teaches us that the true value of the land cannot be derived from the economic

value of the land alone. The land ethic demonstrations that the question of a lands value must be
determined through what is “..esthetically and ethically right.” We know we have the right

answer when it preserves “..the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community,” of the

land in question. Because of this, if a land has come into question to be used for its economic

value, the only ethical way to use the land is to preserve as much as possible without decimating

the land as is usually done. This is an important aspect of the land ethic Leopold imagines, the

way that we value our lands cannot come from economic value alone because economic value

does not account for the innate value the land carries.

While science has propelled us to better understand the world around us in an unbiased

way, realistically we still know very little about how the land functions. While some of the best

things we can do for our lands is to be stewards to them and do our best to encourage our growth,

we are still outsiders in this piece of the community and often human hands tend to damage more

than aid even with the best of intentions. Because of this our best method of protecting the lands

is to leave as much untouched as possible to prevent any interruption in the environment.

I feel like my own conservation philosophy is constantly evolving as I am gaining a more

in depth education about how human progress causes problems for the land as we attempt to

evolve from our ancestors. I believe that conservation of our natural world should be one of the

most important issues in our society today. The way that our world operates depends on the

availability of resources we derive from the land and I believe that the competition for resources

and their economic value has pushed us to consume resources far too quickly. In my view, we

have caused so much irreparable damage to our lands because of this ability to consume

resources seemingly without limit. In this way, I believe by limiting that ability to remove such

resources we can better sustain these lands. These ecosystems that have been preyed upon by

people need a chance to recover before they disappear completely.
For a community to function, respect must be shown to all community members and

decisions must be made for the good of all members and not a select few. The Land Ethic teaches

us that all human and non-human elements, that is, the soil, animals, plants and the land itself,

are members of our community. The effect of this could mean that human community members

would end the mass pollution of the land, air and water, end the over consumption of the land’s

animals, plants, and minerals, and act in the best interest of their mute neighbors whom have

been suffering under the daft ear of the ever-approaching progress of their human community

members. For all parts of the community to be equal, the leaders in this race must slow to a pace

suitable for the stragglers to catch up. To achieve this according to Leopold, we must not only

change the value of the education surrounding conservation, but the very morals with which we

view the world. We must become active members of this conservation movement because as it

stands, not enough is being done and it will take each individual member of this earth to create

change. Without this change in perspective, any education given will not spur any action to be


In the Land Ethic, Leopold expressed his dissatisfaction that the relationship we have

with the land is based upon economic value without any obligation of responsibility for this land.

I believe that this perspective is still one held tightly to the chests of capitalists today. For

example, recently there have been laws drafted that do away with past federal limitations on the

amount of mining debris in streams. The purpose for lifting of these regulations is to revitalize

mining industries. Through the lifting or lightening of the water quality regulations water quality

will suffer and affect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems in a negative way, to benefit

economically from the land. Because of actions being taken such as this one, we can undeniably

say that much of our land is still viewed primarily for its economic value.
In a community where all members are acknowledged, both human and nonhuman,

nonhuman community members are acknowledged to have a right to thrive. This is in lieu of the

current circumstance where these nonhuman members are not often considered. Because of the

human community member’s acknowledgement of these other nonhuman members, it would

cause thes human members to act more carefully as to not damage their newfound neighbors. A

functioning community will not allow some to prosper from the suffering of others. The change

in community values must change in order to develop the proper moral ideas in the functioning

community where it takes effect.

In the Land Ethic, Leopold stated that, “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.” I

believe this is an important statement when it comes to developing a land ethic. Preserving the

intact state of untouched land is vital to its survival. Land stripped of certain resources to aid in

human development lacks many aspects that cannot be attained again meaning that preserving

the integrity of the land is of utmost importance.

I believe that the aesthetics of nature that are most pleasing to us cannot exist without

ethics. The two work in cooperation as the aesthetically pleasing beauty is what may have

originally caused us to develop strong feelings about preserving these natural areas. In the same

fashion, if we didn’t find these areas so beautiful, it would be hard to elicit a response to save

them. In this way the aesthetics of the land become the most crucial part of preserving them

because even an individual without thorough knowledge of conservation or ecology can

appreciate the view of nature and wish to preserve it.

Since directing my education pathway to Environmental studies, I have found myself

exhausted by humanity’s march forward at the expense of the world around it. The continued
exploitation of the land for human use with great loss of the condition land is overwhelming. I

feel as though by not considering the future heirs of the world as well of the future of the land

itself has done the future a great injustice. The idea of sustainability is extremely important in the

development of ethics surrounding conservationism.

After reading the Leopold’s Land Ethic , I feel like I gained a lot from it. Although the

Sand County Almanac was written in 1949, it seems as though the entire essay is still applicable

today. We have still not developed a comprehensive land ethic, and it is even more important

today than it ever was in the past. Before reading the Land Ethic, while I may have felt strongly

about conservation, I felt as though a lot of it was a without a lot of elements behind it.

The way in which the essay is laid out makes it easy for ideas to flow from point to point

and makes the whole essay both comprehensive and easy to read. When reading Leopold’s essay

you can feel the knowledge and experience relayed in his words to the reader. The reader can

virtually feel the strength of his words and values as well as how strongly he believes in what he

is standing up for. This makes the Land Ethic a compelling read with a truly persuasive


While I believe that the Land Ethic was a great read, there was one aspect that is easy to

argue with. While he expertly persuades the reader that a land ethic is necessary and that we need

to treat our lands with respect, how do we fit the current human element into the equation?

Human progress has always seemed to come from the use of the lands and its resources to further

development of society which has caused much of our environmental problems. How do we

continue with human progress as a civilization while maintaining a moral land ethic as he

requires? I feel as though I am not able to answer this question, which I feel may be the issue
surrounding conservation today. To properly utilize a land ethic as Leopold may have imagined,

sacrifices have to be made in human freedoms and development to fulfill this ethic.

My conservation philosophy has become a bit clearer since reading Leopold’s essay.

Before reading the Land Ethic, I had strong feelings about protecting the environment and I felt

as though I may not have had a concrete answer for how to make it happen or even how it should

be done. However, I feel since I have read it that I feel like I have a broader knowledge of some

of the real problems that surround the issues about conservation and because of that knowledge, I

feel more prepared to think critically about problems and work with more intelligent solutions.