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Curious Nature: Aldo Leopold’s land ethic

Markian Feduschak
Curious Nature

The power of the landscape in Eagle County shapes our lives and livelihoods. Our locals, and visitors from all over the world, tend to appreciate this inspiring mountain environment and like to get outside. Be it through awesome recreational opportunities like skiing or hiking, or simply enjoying the view from a restaurant or home patio, everyone seems to appreciate the beauty of this place. Indeed, our local economy and ability to make a living, in one way or another, depends on the integrity of the natural world. Through personal actions and societal laws, you might say we have developed a collective land ethic.

The idea of the land ethic was famously articulated by the 20th century Forest Service ranger and university professor Aldo Leopold, who is widely regarded as the father of the modern conservation movement. Leopold’s ideas and writings have profoundly influenced the field of conservation biology and many of our local and national environmental policies and laws. Leopold believed that “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate. … The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or, collectively, the land.” Leopold believed that “the land” had intrinsic value beyond that of human utility.

The land ethic is eloquently written about in Leopold’s collection of essays, “A Sand County Almanac,” which was published shortly after his untimely death while fighting a fire on a neighbor’s farm in 1949. The essays draw on his diverse life experiences. In the early 20th century, Leopold served as a Forest Service ranger in the American Southwest and by the 1930s, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, became the nation’s foremost expert on wildlife management. During this time, he purchased a barren farm in the Sand Counties of Wisconsin and spent weekends and summers with his family planting trees and mitigating the impact from excessive logging and grazing, putting his ideas of conservation biology, and the land ethic, into practice. His ideas are largely responsible for the creation of the Wilderness Act of 1964, the legislation that governs the wilderness areas throughout the country, including our two local wilderness areas, Eagle Nest and Holy Cross. One can hear Leopold’s thoughts reflected in the description of wilderness in the legislation itself, “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”



As an avid hunter, “farmer,” naturalist and university professor, Leopold came to understand society’s complex relationship with the land. Though Leopold did not live to see most of his ideas put into practice through large-scale conservation biology or land policies and laws, he would have understood and advocated for a variety of approaches to stewardship. Leopold’s fascinating life and ideas are celebrated in the recently released documentary “Green Fire.” This documentary was created and distributed by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, a nonprofit organization that continues to promote his ideas and philosophy.

“Green Fire” will be shown at Walking Mountains Science Center this coming Wednesday at 7 p.m. Afterwards, the local leaders of the National Forest Foundation and the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District will briefly discuss local initiatives that are advancing the land ethic in Eagle County. To learn more about how your own thinking may have something in common with Aldo Leopold, and the fascinating story behind the movie’s title, we encourage you to join us on Wednesday. This is a free event and tickets are limited. Please call in advance to make a reservation at 970-827-9725, or email info@walkingmountains.org.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.



Markian Feduschak, is the executive director at Walking Mountains Science Center. The new center is open to the public Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.


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