"When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive the impact of mechanized man.”
Aldo Leopold wrote that passage in the foreward to “Sand County Almanac” in March 1948, a month before his death.
I’ve been thinking about his legacy since Memorial Day weekend when I teared up at the end of “Green Fire,” an hour-long documentary about Leopold’s work on the local PBS affiliate.
The 20th century conservationist, is considered the father of the national wilderness system, wildlife management, and ecological restoration.
“ … 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,“ he wrote.
He believed that humans are part of the “biotic community” and that preserving land wasn’t enough to protect it. He said we humans must learn to live by a “land ethic” that includes a lifelong responsibility to protect the whole “land community.”
Leopold, scientist, philosopher, educator and prolific writer for scientific journals and conservation magazines, was born in Iowa at a time when the natural world lay in ruins — only 267 years after the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620. Forests had been leveled. Rivers and lakes contaminated. Wetlands decimated. Passenger pigeon massacred and whooping cranes almost extinct, along with many other species.
Too many possibilities exist for my tears, including:
n Die-offs of hundreds of loons and other area water birds in recent years along Lake Michigan.
n Algae concentrations around the Manitou islands and other places.
n Drastic ecological changes in the Great Lakes brought on by exotic zebra and quagga mussels that hitch-hiked into the Great Lakes via ocean-going freighters.
n The more recent Asian Carp threat.
n Recent news report about federal Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Legislature efforts to rewrite strict Michigan wetlands laws that deal with and protect swamps, marshes and bogs, that absorb flood waters and provide vital wildlife habitat.
n The loss of 90 percent of the area cherry crop last year due to quirky late frosts.
“Green Fire,” the documentary made by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, was named for a significant moment in Leopold’s life when he saw the “fierce fire” go out in a dying mother wolf’s eyes after he shot her and her cubs under the mistaken belief that predators have no purpose in the wilderness. The experience and scientific evidence that they do led to a key insight about the important role of human responsibility in maintaining a healthy balance in the “biotic community.”
What other lights have to go out before we and our leaders get it?