Need for a Land Ethic: The Aldo Leopold Legacy

“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”- Aldo Leopold

Published in 1949 as the finale to his book “A Sand County Almanac”, Leopold’s “land ethic” defined a new relationship between people and nature and set the stage for the modern conservation movement.

Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. One of his philosophical achievements was the idea that this ‘community’ should be enlarged to include non-human elements such as soils, waters, weather, plants, and animals, “or collectively: the land.”

“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics”, he said.  This recognition, according to Leopold, implies individuals play an important role in protecting and preserving the health of this expanded definition of a community.

“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of land”, Leopold said. Central to Leopold’s philosophy is the assertion to “quit thinking about decent land use as solely an economic problem.” While recognizing the influence economics have on decisions, Leopold understood that ultimately, our economic well being could not be separated from the well being of our environment. Therefore, he believed it was critical that people have a close personal connection to the land.

“We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love, or otherwise have faith in”, he said.

Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” has prompted generations of people to take better notice – and care – of the natural environment. Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948)  was the first research director at the University of Wisconsin Madison Arboretum and was closely involved in its design.

Madison Reads Leopold begins at 9:30 am at the Arboretum this Saturday, March 7, 2015 and is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be available in the visitor center lobby. Brown-bagging is permitted but food must remain in the Visitor Center.

Madison Reads Leopold is a community celebration organized for to celebrate the life and legacy of Aldo Leopold and is sponsored by the Aldo Leopold Foundation.

The name “Aldo Leopold Weekend” has its roots in Wisconsin, where it is held annually the first full weekend of March has that official designation and Wisconsin communities across the state coordinate events that all happen at the same time. Leopold-themed events have spread far beyond the borders of Wisconsin since the event’s inception in 2000, and are now celebrated across the nation in various ways and at various times throughout the year!  Events planned for the Madison celebration include a showing of the Green Fire film., an excellent documentary on the history of the environmental movement in the United States. At the Madison UW Arboretum  there will also be readings from “A Sand County Almanac”, Leopold bench building workshops, round table discussions followed by hikes through the Arboretum itself.  In short, lots of great things! The event in Madison is scheduled to go to 4 PM Saturday.

Find an event near you!


About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

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