Aldo Leopold on Conservation
Conservation is a state of harmony between
men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with
a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate
predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The
land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and co-operate with each other. The
competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations. You can regulate them-cautiously-but
not abolish them.
The outstanding scientific discovery of the
twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know
the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an
animal or plant: "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we
understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then
who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of
Leopold, Aldo: Round River, Oxford
University Press, New York, 1993, pp. 145-146.
Death of a
Our grandfathers were less well-housed,
well-fed, well-clothed than we are. The strivings by which they bettered their lot are also those which deprived us
of [Passenger] pigeons. Perhaps we now grieve because
we are not sure, in our hearts, that we have gained by the exchange. The gadgets of industy bring us more
comforts than the pigeons did, but do they add as much to the glory of the spring?
It is a century now since Darwin gave us
the first glimpse of the origin of the species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of
generations: that men are only fellow-voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge
should have given us, by this time, a sense of kinship with fellow-ceatures; a wish to live and let live; a sense
of wonder over the magnitude and duration of the biotic enterprise.
Above all we should, in the century since
Darwin, have come to know that man, while captain of the adventuring ship, is hardly the sole object of its quest,
and that his prior assumptions to this effect arose from the simple necessity of whistling in the
These things, I say, should have come to
us. I fear they have not come to many.
For one species to mourn the death of
another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The
sportsman who shot the last [Passenger] pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auck
thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn the loss. Had the funeral been ours, the
pigeons would hardly have mourned us. In this fact, rather than in Mr. DuPont's nylons or Mr. Vannevar Bush's
bombs, lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts.
Leopold, Aldo: A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and
There, 1948, Oxford University Press, New York, 1987, pp. 109-110.
Why is it that conservation is so rarely
practiced by those who must extract a living from the land? It is said to boil down, in the last analysis, to
economic obstacles. Take forestry as an example: the lumberman says he will crop his timber when stumpage values
rise high enough, and when wood substitutes quit underselling him. He said this decades ago. In the interim,
stumpage values have gone down, not up; substitutes have increased, not decreased. Forest devastation goes on as
before. I admit the reality of this predicament. I suspect that the forces inherent in unguided economic
evolution are not all beneficent. Like the forces inside our own bodies, they may become malignant, pathogenic.
I believe that many of the economic forces inside the modern body-politic are pathogenic in respect to harmony
Leopold, Aldo: Round River, Oxford
University Press, New York, 1993, pg. 153.