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Tami S.

Black
Conservation Biology, BIOL1120
The Land Ethic
Reflection Paper
Part I. A summary of The Land Ethic
In a persuasive essay, Aldo Leopold tries to explain how we are ethically and morally
obligated to take care of our resources. In his paper, The Land Ethic Leopold explains how we
have viewed the land as, strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations. This is the
main statement in his essay, and throughout the writing he elaborates on this statement. He says
we have not given the land (the soils, waters, plants, and animals) the respect it deserves. He
talks about our National Anthem and how we sing of our love for and obligation to the land of
the free and the home of the brave and then he questions our uses of our resources and in an
almost disgusted way, says if you say youre going to take care of it and love it, than follow
through. He discusses how land ownership has played a big part of how we now use the land in
different communities and poses the question of many researchers; What if the outcome of
settling the states, and planting the fields if the plant succession had given us some worthless
grasses, shrubs, and weeds to a condition of unstable equilibrium. Where would we be today?

He talks about resource conservation as an ethic and the land which contains the most
diversity such as marshes, bogs, dunes and deserts may be privately owned. But if the owner
was ecologically minded he would, be proud to be the custodian of a reasonable proportion of
such areas. He goes on to say some of these lands can be set aside and managed by the
government, but it is the land ethic that comes in to play for the private citizen whom owns the
biologically rich land. He includes the land as part of the community, and talks about how we

should act respectfully to it as part of our community, rather than treat it as just a tract of land
with not intrinsic value.
Part II. Questions.
How would you characterize your own conservation philosophy? How did you come
to hold these beliefs?
My own conservation philosophy is a blend. I believe partly as John Muir put it (First
American Conservationist), that nature has intrinsic value. It has value apart from its value to
humanity. I dont believe nature was created to be destroyed, nor was it created for humans use
and purpose only. It is here for our use, but that we should not use it up. It only makes sense to
leave the earth a better place, when we leave it. My motto has always been, The earth was not
given to us by our parents, but lent to us by our children (Kenyan Proverb).

My conservation beliefs stem from when I was a child. My Father, raised on a Native
American reservation in Idaho during the summers of his youth, has instilled in us, beliefs and
values that he learned from his Grandparents on the reservation. The principals are strikingly
similar to those of the Kuna culture in Panama (Essentials of Conservation Biology, R.B.
Primack [from our text]). For example, I too believe that we must take care of the land and all
living things, as well as live in a harmonious manner with them. I agree that the extinction of
one thing can also be the extinction of another. But most importantly, I believe that all life is
intertwined in a web, and a sudden disturbance in the balance of this web is felt far and wide.
Everything has a purpose and it is not up to us to determine if it should cease to exist.

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Consider this statement: A land ethic changes the role of humans from conqueror
of the land community to plain members and citizens of it. It implies respect for his
fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such. How would you
apply this ethic in practice?
When I think of ethics, I think of moral philosophy and what is right. One must use
respect when dealing with others in the community. In practice, it is simple: Treat others with
respect; that is the same respect that you would like to be given, or in this case respect the land
and it will provide.
Leopold wrote in the 1940s, The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing
privileges but not obligations. What would you say is our land-relation today?
I believe that our land-relation today has changed from that of Leopolds day. For
example, we now offer a Conservation Biology course in schools. This is a sign of the times and
I believe more people are concerned about the land and how we use it and take care of it, than
did in his day. I believe it could be considered more an educated, economic-perspective with
privileges and we are now more aware of the obligations. There are more people today that
weigh heavy on the obligations of land ethics, than there were in the 1940s. I believe, if he were
alive today to see the impact that he, along with other conservationists have made; Leopold
would be pleasantly surprised.
Leopold says the land ethic is extending a communitys sensibilities to all members
of the community, nonhuman as well as human. What would that mean in your life
or community?
I agree with the Leopolds statement concerning land ethic needing to extend a
communitys sensibilities to all members of the community, nonhuman as well as human.
Human is obviously you and I, but the nonhuman parts of our community would be the soils,
waters, plants, and animals, or as he collectively put it: the land. I respect not only my

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neighbors, and my friends in my community but I also respect my garden, my trees, the
neighbors trees and gardens etc. (you get the idea). I believe I have a slight case of biophilia.
Everything is alive and should be treated as such, with dignity and respect. As Leopold put it,
they are part of my community. As my Father says, it all comes from the Earth and someday, it
will all return to the earth.
Do you agree with this passage from the Land Ethic: 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. Was Leopold suggesting that the integrity of the
biotic community supersedes the concerns for its individual members? What are the
implications of this concept for you?
I completely agree with the statement 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 was suggesting that the integrity of a biotic community supersedes the concerns for its
individual members. For example, a key species such as the wolf in Yellowstone National Park
preserved the integrity and stability of the biotic community and when it was no longer at a
natural population size (that is its numbers were not what they should be had they not had human
intervention) the stability of the park was at stake and we did not know this was the issue until
we had seen the full recovery of the packs.
In the Land Ethic, Leopold said, It is inconceivable to me that an ethical
relationship [with land] can exist without love, respect, admiration, and a high
regard for its value. Which is more motivating for you: beauty (aesthetics) or duty
(ethics)?
In the Land Ethic, Leopold said, It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relationship
[with land] can exist without love, respect, admiration, and a high regard for its value. Most
importantly, my motivation is my ethics. My reason for deciding this is because with the right
amount of respect for the land the aesthetics will come. There are some things, such as a black
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widow in a web for example some may find it repulsive and want to kill it on sight. I on the
other hand, find beauty in it, I enjoy watching it and out of my ethical duty would permit it to
live where someone whos motivation is beauty, might not find it so beautiful. A better example
might be an earthworm in the dirt. Many might not find it so beautiful, and therefore their
motivation null, but I, in my love of nature know that the earthworm and the dirt soil have a
beautiful relationship, and the soil might not be as productive if it were not for the earthworm. In
my ethical motivation, I would not kill the earthworm, because it was not beautiful but let it
alone so that it may provide aeration for the soil.
In thinking about your land ethic, does it emanate primarily from self interest, or
from a true interest in non-human elements?
My land ethic emanates primarily from a true interest in non-human elements. As
explained earlier in my essay, I believe that everything has a purpose on this earth and we are not
here to determine what continues to survive. It is true, I do have some self interest in my land
ethic, but that is only because I want to ensure that what we have today on this blue planet is here
for future generations to enjoy.

Part III. Critique.


The Land Ethic was a useful exercise. I had knew of it, heard quotes from it all through
my career, but not once had I read it. Reading it did not change my opinions however. I believe
that I have a strong opinion of where and how I fit in the web of life, and my beliefs are well
developed and strong. I have a newfound respect for Aldo Leopold himself after reading his
Land Ethic paper. He was a very smart man, and he was sadly before his time. If more people
read this piece, I feel they would see the world in a different light. I thoroughly enjoyed reading

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the piece and would recommend it to others. My favorite quote, 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.

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