Sunday, January 13, 2008

Aldo Leopold

For Christmas Karyn bought me a book by Aldo Leopold - A Sand County Almanac. I have been interested in Aldo Leopold as a very early conservationist. This book was published in 1949. Leopold was one of the first people to write about the importance of healthy eco-systems and specifically the role of a top predator in that eco-system. Its for this reason that the first naturally created wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park after reintroduction was named in his honor.

From the foreward:

"There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.  These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot."

He writes regarding the howl of the wolf:

"Every living thing pays heed to that call. To the deer it is a reminder of the way of all flesh, to the pine a forecast of midnight scuffles and of blood upon the snow, to the coyote a promise of gleanings to come, to the cowman a threat of red ink at the bank, to the hunter a challenge of fang against bullet.  Yet behind these obvious and immediate hopes and fears there lies a deeper meaning, known only to the mountain itself. Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf."

One of the more dramatic portions of the book, he describes the killing of a wolf:

"We reached the old wolf in time to watch the fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes -- something known only to her and the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

The book moves from the analysis of healthy eco-systems, to the preservation of wilderness, to hunting ethics, to the flaws in modern wildlife management, to the over use of the land.   As a property owner, farmer, and hunter, he has a great and reputable perspective on what sustainability means to him. Its a great read.

Its clear that we as a society have learned little since the book was written.  Nearly every threat to bio-diversity that he discusses in the book has escalated with catastrophic results.  It amazes me that in the overwhelming face of science for 60+ years (actually hundreds of years) we have sat back and watched species go extinct on our watch. We've watched the cascading effects of this. And yet, we still have public debates on whether we should have wilderness, whether predators have a right to live, whether there is value in native plants, etc.

As you could probably tell, I highly recommend the book.

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Cyanbodie said...

Be sure to follow that with "Aldo Leopold's Southwest." "A Sandy County Almanac" is the idealist, "Southwest" is the learned.

wolf21m said...

I'll defnitely take a look. Thanks!