“There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.”
― Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold—arguably the father of modern wildlife conservation—expressed the above sentiment in his seminal work A Sand County Almanac. I subscribe to that notion as well. It is one of the reasons that I skipped school to attend the first Earth Day celebration and eventually entered the field of wildlife conservation. It is also one of the core reasons that I accepted the job as executive director of Cascadia Wildlands as I would like to think if Dr. Leopold were alive today, he would probably be standing right along with us and shouting: We Like It Wild!
Aldo has been in my thoughts lately for several reasons. First, my wife and I recently went to a screening of the film Green Fire. Aside from encapsulating Leopold’s important story for yet another generation, it was wonderful to see old friends like Curt Meine and the late Nina Leopold Bradley—Aldo’s daughter. It also brought me cinematically close to friends from my past such as Dave Parsons who was the agency lead on the Mexican wolf project and newer friends like Peter Forbes who was with the Trust for Public Lands for many years and later founded the Center for Whole Communities in Vermont with his wife Helen Whybrow. In many ways the movie worked for me like a virtual facebook fan page for Leopold—all of us his students by extension and all of us subscribers to his concept of a Land Ethic.
The second reason he was on my mind was that I recently packed up my office in preparation for my move from Bellingham to Eugene. And one of the first things I always pack is a blood-red, river smoothed chunk of chert. The rock fits perfectly in my hand and when I rub it, a certain calmness washes over me. That calmness allows me to focus and think about what needs to be done and what I and others can do to bring about the most beneficial changes in the realms of conservation and sustainability.
I met this rock roughly twenty years ago at the bottom of a hole I had dug near the banks of the Wisconsin River to plant a pine tree in celebration of a successful conservation meeting. The hole was about fifty feet from a converted chicken coop known to all Leopold fans as “The Shack.” This is where Leopold and his family spent weekends and where large parts of A Sand County Almanac were inspired and composed. I showed the rock to Nina and she gave me permission to take it along with a handful of acorns for my staff back in DC.
“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
The rock is not my only Sand County anchor. I am also connected academically and experientially. A. Starker Leopold was arguably one of his father’s last students and the late Ray Dasmann was Starker’s last student at UC Berkeley. So when I entered graduate school at UC Santa Cruz, Ray was one of the first people I approached for my graduate committee. As a result of this academic lineage, colored so fully by Leopold’s own intellectual evolution regarding predator roles in ecosystems as expressed in essays such as Thinking like a Mountain, I seemed almost predestined to work on Yellowstone wolf recovery and its natural extension—this current re-colonization of the remote and wolf-free areas of Cascadia. The same could be said for my absorption of Leopold’s early 1900s experiences relating to the folly of plantation forestry in Europe and Cascadia Wildlands advocacy for science-based forest management and the importance of “intelligent tinkering” and keeping every “cog and wheel” extant like Northern Spotted Owls and Marbled Murrelets.
The acorns were planted and unfortunately did not grow. The rock, however, continues to inspire me and at the same time challenges me to live up to the standards and aspirations set by Aldo and the rest of the Leopolds. My hope is that the rock will continue to inspire me as I work with all of you to keep large elements of Cascadia wild.
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