land ethic

Public Land Superheroes 

Superhero Day is observed nationally on April 28, in an effort to recognize the unsung heroes that make life a little bit better. Superheroes can come in all shapes and sizes with varied purposes. The Jacobson family have a tradition of imparting love and respect for public lands and acting as superheroes for public land stewardship.

Meet Stewart Jacobson, a former BLMer, who retired in 2005 with over 35 years of service. He was one of the pioneers for BLM outdoor ethics, noted by his efforts in incorporating the Tread Lightly and Leave No Trace programs throughout the BLM. He was also instrumental in helping to develop an objective matrix to assess visual resources, which is effectively being used today. Stewart diligently worked on preserving the land, while providing recreational opportunities to the public. He understood the importance of balancing multiple-use in managing public lands. 

Most importantly, Stewart passed along his love of the outdoors to his son Dave. “I remember visiting the Little Sahara Recreation Area with my dad when I was twelve. That experience made me realize that I wanted to become an Outdoor Recreation Planner,“ said Dave. Dave has successfully achieved his childhood dream, and is now the Outdoor Recreation Planner for the BLM Cedar City Field Office, Utah. 

Just like Stewart passed on his love for the land to his son by getting him to volunteer with him at the LSRA when he was young, Dave is now instilling land stewardship into his own children, symbolically passing on the torch.

“Public Lands belong to everyone,” Dave said, and we can all be superheroes when it comes to protecting the land for future generations. When we practice the principles of Tread Lightly and Leave No Trace, we each get a turn to don the BLM superhero cape.

Story by Iris Picat and Yanavey McCloskey; Photo of Dave Jacobson’s children provided by Dave.

Writing Prompt #10

In “The Conceptual Foundations of the Land Ethic,” J. Baird Callicott defends Aldo Leopold’s concept of the land ethic in the face of certain criticisms and conflicts. Because of its emphasis of the value of the biotic community over the value of an individual, the land ethic has been accused of preaching “environmental fascism.” One major conflict is between the holistic land ethics that is based on the well-being of the entire biotic community and the more individualized ethics that are focused on anthropocentrism. In other words, how can we look out for our fellow human beings at the same time if we adopt on an ethics that serve to preserve the entire biotic system?

 The land ethic asserts that “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (Leopold, 231). In other words, this position does not look out for the well-being of an individual, who is not granted “the right to life.” The land ethic emphasizes a utilitarian position because a consequence is judged to be morally correct if it resulted in the greatest amount of pleasure for the largest group of beings. In this case, the largest group of beings constitutes the biotic community. Thus, this land ethic would deem it wrong for a farmer to abuse natural resources for profit or for the government to leave a population of deer unchecked as they devour a forest. However, this leads to the conflict with human ethical and moral communities. Critics of the land ethic state that under this theory, it would be morally right if large communities of humans were exterminated in order to solve the ongoing problem of overpopulation and resource competition. Individual ethics of anthropocentrism would obviously deem this scenario to be horrific, inhumane and absolutely wrong. This theory values every individual human life and the preservation of the human race. Our community teaches us that it is wrong to take the life of another let alone a population of individuals.

Is it impossible to believe in both the land ethic and the individualistic ethics of one’s community? In his article, Callicott attempts to offer a solution to the major inconsistency between the biotic and human moral communities. He states that “our recognition of the biotic community and our immersion in it does not imply that we do not also remain members of the human community…or that we are relieved of the…moral responsibilities of that membership” (Callicott, 243). In other words, we can adopt the land ethic but we are still entitled to respect universal human rights and the principles of human worth. Callicott recommends that our obligations and duties to the human race come before environmental duties. However, “while the land ethic does not cancel human morality, neither does it leave it unaffected” (Callicott, 243). In making this comment, Callicot is trying to assert that it is possible to believe in both philosophies because they have an interdependent relationship.

Though I believe that it is important to have moral obligations to one’s own species, I disagree with Callicott’s solution that “humanitarian obligations in general come before environmental duties” (Callicott, 243). This is because he offers no explanation why this is the case! This solution places Callicott in the dangerous waters of speciesism. His solution gives off an air that we should place human obligations over the environment just because we are more important. Throughout the whole article, Callicott preaches the genius of Leopold’s “Land Ethic.” However, in making this comment, he contradicts his whole article! Though he gives us an extensive lesson on what are environmental duties based on the land ethic, he leaves the concept of “humanitarian obligations” undefined. Thus, one can have a duty to grant the human race with a comfortable and luxurious life by depleting the Earth of its natural resources. Since this can be considered as a humanitarian obligation, then its consequences would be justified even though it is detrimental to the biodiversity and ecosystems of the natural world. I believe that a better solution would be to adjust one’s individual ethics to one’s community to match the land ethic. There may be a time one has to place the wellbeing of the biotic community above our own human communities. For example, we might have to put a cease to using convenient modern transportation such as cars or trains in order to control green house gas emissions. However, I believe that this position should be applicable vice versa as well. Every individual has the moral obligation to ensure the well-being of their species. Instead of exterminating several human communities to solve the problem of overpopulation, an alternate solution should be devised, such as spreading birth control or legislation on family size.  

 Link to Original Prompt

Staying put is revolutionary.

The important thing to do is to learn all you can about where you are…, to make common cause with that place and then resigning yourself, becoming patient enough to work with it over a long time.

Wendell Berry.

Americans move a lot. More than anyone else, in fact. Workers follow jobs to new towns, then move again when the work dries up. We traipse around the country, flitting from one place to another. And when we finally do settle down, there’s not much to distinguish one town from the next. Wherever we go, we find the same cul-de-sacs and Burger Kings and entertainment options. The word “place” means less and less.

Our “placelessness” makes us inattentive to the land. We have little reason to invest in a temporary home. Why befriend a neighbor you’ll never see again? Why clean up a creek whose waters you’ll never drink? Why fight for an unfamiliar hilltop, when its fertility doesn’t fill your pantry?

If hypermobility undermines our land ethic, then “locality”—settling down—restores it. Over time, we learn to recognize the land’s rhythms. We grow intimately familiar with its little treasures—this river bend, that spruce-covered knob, these native species.

That knowledge blossoms into love, and (as the years pass) we entwine ourselves with that home. We stretch our roots so deep that digging us up becomes impossible. We make “common cause” with the land, binding ourselves to its fate. We rely—in a real, food-on-the-table sort of way—on this community of friends and flora and fauna. Any threat to land suddenly represents a threat to our own lives.

Such settling down takes guts. There’s something scary about saying, “This is the place.” For one thing, it rejects the “Manifest Destiny” myth, substituting “Stay put!” for “Go west, young man!” And it can make us look foolish, this commitment to one spot. Great job opportunity across the country? Nope; we stay. Environment under threat? We stay. Conflict over the land’s future? We stay. Stubbornly, lovingly, unapologetically, we stay.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a 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 to 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..…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.


Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of the wolf.


I have lived to see state after state extirpate its wolves. I have watched the face of many a newly wolfless mountain, and seen the south-facing slopes wrinkle with a maze of new deer trails. I have seen every edible bush and seedling browsed, first to anaemic desuetude, and then to death. I have seen every edible tree defoliated to the height of a saddlehorn. Such a mountain looks as if someone had given God a new pruning shears, and forbidden Him all other exercise. In the end the starved bones of the hoped-for deer herd, dead of its own too-much, bleach with the bones of the dead sage, or molder under the high-lined junipers.
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer.


Aldo Leopold quotes, which describe in bits and pieces his view toward conservation, particularly wolves. I believe these quotes are all from Sand County Almanac, which was published in 1949. Aldo Leopold lived in Sauk County, Wisconsin.

Some doubt whether the first quote above is a call to preservation and conservation, because of the context in which the quote appears. Regardless, Mr. Leopold is clearly expressing a view relative to the ecological effect of the loss of apex predators, in a poetic and forceful manner.

Who am I as an Environmental Stakeholder?

Throughout this semester, with every article I read and every blog post I wrote, I not only learned a great deal about the environmental ethic of various influential thinkers, policy makers, and philosophers, but also was able to explore my own ethical position. As an environmental stakeholder, I am a college student, a daughter and sister, and a Catholic. My childhood and experiences have shaped the way I see the world, though my perspective has also been influenced by my education and by dialoguing with peers and professors. As such, my worldview is weak stewardship coupled with earth wisdom and the belief that humans must not consider themselves separate from nature. I value community, interpersonal relationships, and a deep connection with the natural world over the materialism, individualism, and consumerism that characterize our society. Stewardship is typically characterized as anthropocentric, yet I find it to be an exhortation to use resources responsibly and not exploit our unique position in creation. As the only species capable of causing huge damage to the biosphere, stewardship recognizes that we have a special responsibility to care for the planet.

I found that the environmental ethics that tapped into the deeper questions relating to human nature, our relationship with the natural world, and our ultimate goals were stronger than those that focused on shallower topics or advocated change on a surface level. Scientific data and statistics, like the UN report on climate change, provide important reasons to implement changes in our lifestyles, yet I found myself drawn to the ethics that recognized and respected the spiritual and aesthetic value of the natural world. In particular, I was inspired by the ethic of figures such as Thomas Berry, St. Francis of Assisi, and Aldo Leopold who established a connection with the natural world that recognized the intrinsic value of every aspect of the biosphere. Implementing these ethics will not only do much to halt the degradation of ecosystems and combat climate change, but also solve many social ills that come about due to our separation from the natural world. For instance, issues like poverty, malnourishment, and Nature Deficit Disorder would be greatly reduced if people learned to see themselves as part of the natural world and lived in harmony, and not against, their environments.

Though many of the environmental ethics covered in the course advocated an extension of the moral community to include animals, plants, and/or all living things in general, I was not convinced by the arguments establishing sentience or life as the criterion for moral standing. This is not to say that I believe rationality is a good criterion either; a person is valuable not because of how much utility we can get from them, or how much pain they can feel, or how rational they are, but rather because they possess inherent dignity as a child of God. I believe that we have direct duties to every human being and indirect duties to the natural world. As such, in a moral conflict in which I had to decide between the life of an animal and the life of a human, such as the slum child and sewer rat example posed by Peter Singer, I would always choose the human.

Singer may call me a speciesist, but I do not think my views are incompatible with the Land Ethic of Aldo Leopold, or with the ideas presented in Journey of the Universe. After learning a great deal about various environmental ethics, I do not feel compelled to become a vegetarian; however, I am convinced of my duty to live in a way that is respectful of the natural world, striving to use resources wisely and reduce my consumption and carbon footprint. Aldo Leopold said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” I have found that in their very simplicity, these words provide a true and feasible environmental ethic. 

The Music of Elusive Birds

When considering what sound-based passage of text I would use to create a word cloud, my first thought was to grab A Sand County Almanac from my bookshelf. This collection of essays by Aldo Leopold contemplates the flora and fauna of the part of the world where I live (southern Wisconsin) and the role of people in that landscape. The educational value of this book is in its exquisite descriptions of a vanishing landscape that many people will never experience in person, and in promoting an ethic of land conservation that was foreign to most people when the book was published in 1949 (a year after Leopold’s death). As Leopold wrote in the Foreword, “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.” It was not until the 1960s environmental movement that this book became known as the classic it is today.

I could have selected any of a number of passages, but I chose this beautiful passage from the essay “September: A Choral Copse”:

There is a peculiar virtue in the music of elusive birds. Songsters that sing from top-most boughs are easily seen and as easily forgotten; they have the mediocrity of the obvious. What one remembers is the invisible hermit thrush pouring silver chords from impenetrable shadows; the soaring crane trumpeting from behind a cloud; the prairie chicken booming from the mists of nowhere; the quail’s Ave Maria in the hush of dawn. No naturalist has even seen the choral act, for the covey is still on its invisible roost in the grass, and any attempt to approach automatically induces silence.

From “September: A Choral Copse” in A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1966 edition, originally published 1949)

This passage contains so many richly worded phrases (such as “mediocrity of the obvious”) that I kept many of the words together for my word cloud. I selected a color palette that I associate with the month of September.
Earth Ethic - Wisdom of Sound - Hank Lentfer | Center for Humans & Nature

“Whether vibrantly felt in Alaska’s wild or dimly perceived beneath the cityscape’s din, the Earth’s invitation to pay attention is always there and we can no longer afford not to listen. The huff of air through feathers and the whisper of snow through trees carry no answers. But in tuning our ears to the dense diversity of voices clacking and whispering all about us, we engage in the much-needed work of swelling the breadth of our awareness.”