Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chapter 4: A Sand County Almanac

Aldo Leopold was an officer of the U.S. Forest Service in the 1920's. In an attempt to protect natural environments from the effects of commercial activity he helped to establish 70 "primitive areas" in which development was prohibited. 16 years after his death the Federal Wilderness Act was passed in 1964. Leopold wrote a number of lyrical and philosophical works about nature in a book A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There from which excerpt was taken in order to start off the chapter. Leopold once had a fair bit of enthusiasm for killing wolves and admits this was due to common ignorance of the "ecological interdependence that sustains mountain ecosystems."

The excerpt titled Thinking Like a Mountain begins with a description of the effect the howl and presence of a wolf affects a passerby and even a cattle raiser. A hunter will have the "challenge of fang against bullet" come to mind while a cattle raiser may be filled with thoughts of "red ink at the bank (a river where the cattle drink" as it were.

Leopold then describe how he and a friend were eating lunch on a hill when they saw a wolf mom and her pups swim across a river. He claims that in those days people had never heard of passing up a chance to kill a wolf. So they began to "pump lead into the pack, but with more excitement than accuracy:". He claims he thought that less wolves meant more deer which would mean a hunters paradise. But he looked into the wolf moms eyes and "after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

He then goes on to say how we watched numerous states extirpate wolves and how with them gone the deer ate all the edible plant life off the mountains and then starved to death when there was no food left. Leopold then states that he believes mountains live in fear of deer, just as deer live in fear of wolves.

The except embodies the main idea behind of this chapter, people cannot do as they please with nature, we do not own it, and if we disrupt the delicate balance of ecosystems which we also rely upon, then we are in trouble. The Ethical Sequence is one of the main ideas in this chapter. It is an extension of ethics and is a process of ecological evolution. Ethics began with the relationship between individuals and spawned the Golden Rule. However, there is no ethic dealing with the relationship between man and land and the animals and plants which live upon it. We still see land a property. "The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations."

The Community Concept has a brief part in this chapter. It states that a individuals instincts prompt him to to compete for a better place within hi community, but his ethics also prompt him to co-operate. The author then states that the land ethic is merely an extension of this to include land, water, plants and animals within or near the community.

In summary the author describes his feelings and thought on how to bring about land ethics. "It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to the land can exist without love, respect, and admiration for the land, and a high regard for its value....I mean value in a philosophical sense." One claim is that is that people have the wrong view of nature and not enough respect. Place a person in the open, someplace that is not a golf resort or scenic area and boredom will set in. Farmers still see the land as an adversary. We need to change our way of thinking and our relation with the land if we are to prevent continued environmental degredation.

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