The Clearwater Audubon Society, in partnership with the Friends of Weedon Island, recently held a limited seating screening of a new full-length documentary film called Green Fire: Aldo Leopold And A Land Ethic For Our Time. The movie highlights the lifelong efforts of ecologist, forester, and environmentalist Aldo Leopold to understand, manage, and preserve the land for all things.
Most outdoors-people have some understanding of the conservation ethic and what it means to the places we visit. Leopold famously penned, “Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and aesthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to perserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” This movie is a story of why we have embraced that ethic today. It begins by examining Leopold’s childhood in Sauk County, Wisconsin where he witnessed changes to the land brought on by mechanization, industry, public policy, and an ever-expanding population.
Leopold attended the very first forestry school in the nation at Yale University where he earned his degree. Soon after, he was hired by the United States Forest Service to work in the Arizona and New Mexico Territories. The documentary does well to elaborate on this time in his life. He was tasked with removing bear, wolves, and any other game that was in the way of ranchers and their herds of cattle and sheep. This would prove to be a thought provoking and ultimately moving experience which can be seen in what he later wrote. “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.”
His study of those efforts are seminal to the development of our understanding of land ethic. At a time when the rest of the country was conquering the wild and abusing the land, Leopold had the vision to recognize the damage and irreversible destruction progress was imposing. “Land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” From that perspective, he used ethical and scientific rationales to help end policies that were meant to usher progress but were instead damaging the land and animals. His ability and life journey truly influenced and shaped the modern environmental movement.
Leopold’s words from half a century ago are more prescient today than maybe ever before. He said, “Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television.” And he wrote, “… wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal-clear: our bigger-and-better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. . . . Nothing could be more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings.” My impression is that these words will continue to ring true as we move forward and my hope is that you will watch this documentary movie and remember the lessons of Aldo Leopold’s experience and appreciate his efforts on your next outdoor adventure.
You can find screenings and see the trailer for Green Fire: Aldo Leopold And A Land Ethic For Our Time at http://www.greenfiremovie.com/.