“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” - Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold is one of my all-time heroes. Born in 1887 and living a full life through 1948, he was a renowned scientist, scholar, exceptional teacher, philosopher, conservationist, and gifted writer. He is also considered the father of wildlife ecology. His most famous book, “The Sand County Almanac” continues to inspire many people today, seventy years after his death.
Aldo was a renaissance man, born years before his time, or maybe he was born just in time – motivating people to start thinking about the environment and ways to save the earth rather than destroy it.
I wonder, then, how Aldo Leopold would feel if he looked at the land today? I am sure he would be appalled at the environmental abuses throughout the world: the melting of the ice caps, the burning of the rainforests, fracking, the amount of waste in our landfills and the use of our oceans as trash dumps. But what about our own lands: the continued loss of prairies, open lands, and green space due to urban sprawl; the cutting of our own forests for needless and redundant packaging?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we shouldn’t cut trees for wood products. I am a dyed-in-the-wool conservationist. That is different than a preservationist. Conservation is wise use of natural resources; preservation is no use of these natural resources. Obviously, we will always need to produce lumber; for houses, furniture, paper, and a hundred other wood products. A conservationist plants trees right behind the ones just cut. Sound conservation methods are used throughout the harvesting process.
Let’s face it; forestlands dedicated to the lumber industry have a greater chance of survival than a forest on the edge of town. Commercial lands are strictly managed using select cutting methods and the replanting of seedlings behind each harvest. These lands naturally provide wildlife habitat, continuing biodiversity in the area, and help to reduce the carbon load.
The U.S. Forest Service practices conservation methods managing 193 million acres of land. They harvest trees before they reach their natural decline, allowing us to use this valuable natural resource. This management practice reduces the amount of dead trees on the forest floor; selected dying trees remain standing for nesting sites for woodpeckers, other birds and wildlife. Once dead, the trees fall and continue the cycle of life.
Truth is, forestlands not owned by a commercial business or protected as government land are doomed to the first developer driving by. It is easier to build new strip malls than to remodel all of the empty ones that blight cityscapes. When building golf courses and housing developments, it is easier to bulldoze all of the trees into a burn pile and set them ablaze, than to harvest them.
Aldo would be disappointed and horrified that we still haven’t learned to live in harmony with the land. Everyone should read “The Sand County Almanac”. It is inspiring and provides Greenspace for the mind.
-- Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net