October 24, 2009

The beginning of A Land Ethic

Five years ago, I hadn't heard of 'blogs'. Two years ago, I thought blogs were for people with criminal minds who stayed up late at night with no friends. Then, I went to Namibia.

While we have spent the year in Namibia, I've discovered blogging to be an interesting way to convey information. As one of my colleagues, Drew Tyre, pointed out, there is a need for scientists to share information in non-traditional ways. Blog on...

As we finish our year in Namibia, our Nebraska to Namibia blog will take on a time capsule quality. An adventure completed. More adventures to come. Thus, A Land Ethic begins its run as my mainstay blog.

I'm a wildlife ecologist, and I teach at the University of Nebraska. I hope A Land Ethic will serve as a place to post ideas, information, discussions, and fun items regarding conservation and wildlife management in the Great Plains and beyond.

The blog takes its name from Aldo Leopold's essay, The Land Ethic. It's an essay that my students read each year. It's an essay that I learn from every time I read it.

I firmly believe that The Land Ethic is far-reaching. Supporting such an ethic means thinking about one's entire life. I'll end this first post with a snippet from one of my manuscripts, in which I suggest that there are theological implications to The Land Ethic:

Aldo Leopold is partially responsible for initiating a change in our
culture’s worldview with regard to the relationship between humans and our natural world. He taught the first course in wildlife management and was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, after serving as a biologist for the U.S. Forest Service for many years. During his university years at
Madison, life in the Leopold house meant leaving their family’s Madison home for weekends at “The Shack”—allowing Leopold time to reflect on the land around him.

In 1949, Leopold posthumously published A Sand County Almanac. It is a collection of personal reflections by Leopold about the world urrounding The Shack in Sand County, Wisconsin. Leopold leads the reader through a year on his land, reflecting on nature’s lessons and clues for sustainable living. The conclusion to the Almanac was, for its time, a ground-breaking essay entitled The Land Ethic. Leopold’s main thesis is that humans exist in community with the animals and plants and the entire ecosystem around them. Commenting on the 1914 extinction of the passenger pigeon, Leopold wrote:

"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 [we] 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-creatures; 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 [we], while captain of the adventuring ship, [are] hardly the sole object of its quest, and that [our] prior assumptions to this effect arose from the simple necessity of whistling in the dark. These things, I say, should have come to us. I fear they have not come to many."

Leopold called for a new ethic on our use of the land, an ethic that elevates the land (and associated plants and animals) to equal status with humans:

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

So, that is what this blog is about.

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