The Desperation of Ecology


“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
― Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

A thought has been rattling in my addled rain since reading Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac”, and specifically the quote above several years ago.

It seems that many of those I am acquainted with in the field of conservation and/or ecology are often either somber and disengaged, or frothing at the mouth concerning the damage man has inflicted upon the earth. It is difficult in the age of shrinking wilderness to be optimistic about the future. Many who have fought the good fight of conservation burn out from years of fundraising, court battles, internal conflicts in conservation groups, and restoration efforts that sometimes seem too little too late. It wears on the soul of those who value wild places and things.

The options Leopold offered are either to stick our heads in the sand. or be like the traveling tent evangelists of old who tried to save souls that had no desire or felt need to be saved. You will not be loved and appreciated. Most likely you will be marginalized and mocked.

I am currently reading Henry Middleton’s “On the Spine Of Time”, which explores the wildness of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and mourns the loss of wildness. It seems almost all writing about nature (Thoreau, Muir, etc.) has this overtone.

But I wonder if there is an alternative to gloom, doom, and resignation? I wonder if an optimistic view is missing from this dialog? Most of the victories we hear about seem to be in the area of wildlife management; the restoration of wild turkeys to unprecedented numbers, the expansion of white tailed deer in my lifetime, and others. And those are certainly worth noting.

But what of dam removals like Washington state’s Elwah, restoring rivers and salmon runs?  What of land owners like David Bamberger, former CEO of Church’s Chicken who bought the worst ranch in central Texas he could find, and has dedicated his life to restoring it and teaching others to do likewise? What of the success of groups like Trout Unlimited in protecting and restoring entire watersheds like Bristol Bay, Alaska through cooperation and focus on the common good with stakeholders rather than through anger and eco-terrorism?

Certainly there are threats and losses to nature, and even radicals who advocate human extinction as the best solution to ecological issues. But isn’t there room for another voice? One that gives young people with a love of nature options other than radicalization or lethargy? I believe the answer is yes.  Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited are two groups I am a member of that foster a positive voice. There are others.

Are you part of the conversation?

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