About Aldo Leopold
Considered by many to be the father of the United States’ wilderness system, Aldo Leopold was a forester, conservationist, outdoor enthusiast, educator, philosopher, and writer. He is best known as the author of A Sand County Almanac (1949), a classic book on conservation in which he expressed his land ethic:
"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 preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
Leopold understood that ethics direct individuals to cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of all. One of Leopold’s philosophical achievements was the idea that this “community” should be enlarged to include non-human elements such as soils, waters, plants, and animals, “or collectively: the land”:
"That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics."
To his credit, Leopold also understood that there was not just one land ethic. Rather, Leopold asserted:
"I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution because nothing so important as an ethic is ever written …. It evolves in the minds of a thinking community.”
In 1909, having just graduated from the Yale School of Forestry, Leopold went to work for the U.S. Forest Service. His first assignment with the Forest service was the Southwest Region, headquartered in Albuquerque. In 1912, Aldo Leopold, the newly appointed supervisor of the Carson National Forest of northern New Mexico, married the love of his life: Estella Luna Otero Bergere, the daughter of a prominent Hispanic family in New Mexico.
Having married a native New Mexican and having spent the formative years of his early professional life in New Mexico (1909-1924), it was here that, arguably, Leopold had his greatest insights about the relationship between humans and Nature.
Aldo and Estella began their life together in New Mexico, and it was in New Mexico that Aldo Leopold found his voice as a leader in forestry, in conservation, and as a writer.
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 preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
There are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land.
We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.